It took about a damned week, but I eventually found Smith Casey’s Garage, which sat on top of Vault 112 as a cover. It took me a long time to figure out how to open the huge door too. At least it was well-hidden from all the Wasteland assholes that might want to poke their nose around, and in turn, it made it clean. Too clean. It was like the fresh, never been used, still-smells-like-disinfectant clean.
And there was no one there. The bunkers, the cafeteria, the armory—all of it never been used. A couple of robobrains were there. No people.
Eventually I found them.
It was fucked up.
In this large atrium, pods surrounded a mainframe, which stretched from floor to ceiling. It was still operational, but I had no fucking clue what it was for. Until I looked inside one of the pods.
There was this old guy. I mean, Carol old. His vault suit was clean like it’d just come off the store shelf, but his face was so wrinkled I could hardly see where his eyes were supposed to be. I looked into each pod. All of the Vault’s residents were here, each inside a pod, staring at a monitor in their faces, hooked up to this mainframe that was still running somehow. The person in the next pod always looked more ancient than the last. All except one.
There was this middle aged-looking guy sitting in one of the pods, his eyes glued to the monitor like all the rest, but he was dirty, unlike them, and he had a small “101” stamped to his chest.
I’d found him.
What the fuck was I supposed to do now?
I stayed there for a long time, just leaning up against the glass. It looked like he was out of commission, maybe being brainwashed. So, I went through my options: one, I could shatter the glass and pull him out; two, I could mess with the millions of wires on the back of the pod; or three, I could shut off the power for the entire Vault. Except all of those options were really fucking stupid and would probably get him killed. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t help but look over the guy’s face, realizing the boss was right—she looked nothing like him.
After I had laid her down by Vault 101, I spent hours in that shack in Springvale. I spent longer there in Vault 112, leaning against the old guy’s pod, just hoping a solution would conveniently pop up. I felt like saving this guy would be my one redeeming moment. Maybe I didn’t deserve redeeming. Or still don’t. There really was dick-all I could do.
I eventually peeled myself away from the pod and left. I didn’t know where I was going this time. All I wanted to do was stay behind and sit by that pod until it opened by itself. Maybe I’d stay in hiding for a couple of months, at least until the heat over my head cooled down, until people stopped caring to look for me. Hell, I wouldn’t have minded if one of them ran into me, so that we could have a fire match. It would at least take my mind off the fact that I’d fucked up.
I should have been careful of what I wished for.
Days of wandering brought me pretty close to Megaton again. I was watching my feet, watching my shadow stretch farther and farther across the ground, making me grow taller.
“There you are, you zombie fuck.”
I stopped and straightened. Four guys stood to my right. They flanked me. They fucking flanked me.
I slowly turned toward Jericho and his jockeys. There were fewer of them than the first night I saw them crawling around the desert. While Jericho and two of his buddies looked suited to be hands for hire, the third guy was dressed in a jump suit you’d expect a mechanic to wear. He held this piece of shit homemade rifle, and I knew he’d been scraped off the bottom of the barrel by Moriarty to find me. The old coot was getting desperate. Sure, there were four of them and one of me, but I was a big guy and a fucking surgeon with a shotgun.
“Jericho,” I muttered distastefully.
“Where’s your freak show?” Jericho said, slowly turning from side to side, squinting into the distance. He was trying to mock me, but I thought he looked like a fucking clown. “You run away from them too?”
“Is it blood or service that Moriarty wants?” I folded my arms over my chest. I was hoping to speed the process along, because I was starting to remember, standing there in front of a bunch of goons with guns, that I really hated people.
“Shut the fuck up, Charon,” Jericho blathered, waving his assault rifle in the air. The others took this as their cue to aim at me. I almost laughed, watching the mechanic struggle.
Jericho recovered, though, giving me a sloppy grin. “You know, ever since you showed your ugly mug in my town, I’ve wanted the chance to kick your ass.”
“My boot print still in your ass?”
That killed the smirk pretty damn quick. “You’re coming with us, or I blow your brains all over the dirt. Now, either drop the shotgun, or make your move.”
I gave him this blank stare for a couple of seconds before I held my hands up. Slowly, I reached for my shotgun and held it out in front of me, making to lower it to the ground. Then I went and tossed it towards him.
’Course, I was never one to keep the safety on.
The shotgun landed in the dirt with a BANG. Lead ripped through Jericho’s legs. He shouted, tripping backwards and holding his gun in the air, firing off a couple of shots as he fell on his ass. The other three were caught off guard—the two armoured guys looked to their wounded comrade, while the mechanic just kind of stared at me with wide eyes, his wiry hands holding the rifle loosely while his knees shook.
I came at one of the armoured ones from his side. I wrapped my arm around his shoulders and plunged the knife into the side of his neck. The other guy turned to see a pint of blood gush out. I pushed the corpse at him. It looked like they were dancing as the second guy flailed. By the time he managed to toss the body into the dirt, I’d chucked the knife. It deflected off his face. A huge flap of skin came away and he sprayed blood all over a squirming Jericho and a shaking old mechanic. He swore long and loud, then his scream reached such a pitch that the old guy dropped his assault rifle and covered his ears.
I almost felt sorry for the motherfucker.
I bulled him over, wrapping both hands around his skull and throwing it into the ground like a football. When he immediately shit his pants I knew the force had either knocked him out or outright killed him.
The guy whose face I’d sliced off was still shrieking, but had taken it down a notch. Jericho looked like a rabid dog, spittle all over his face, panting and growling. I stood over him and he flinched. “Fucking dick!” he yelled hoarsely. “I’ll fucking get you!”
“Hm. Keep me on my toes.”
I picked up my shotgun, then stomped on his assault rifle until it was in more pieces than it was assembled in. “Crawl back to Moriarty, if you can,” I said over my shoulder, “and tell him I’ll be waiting, as long as the fucker draws breath.”
It felt good. But that only made me feel more guilty than I ever had. I don’t think I wanted to feel better about her dying—not then, not for a long time.
“You’re fucking dead, Charon!”
I’d heard that one before.
I wandered around aimlessly in the metro tunnels for about a week before I found the old abandoned raider house. There was a pool table, a generous supply of booze, food, and ammo, and a working radio. It only got Galaxy News, but that’s all I needed. I could remember having to listen to his broadcasts for the last five years with Ahzrukhal, and the guy drove me fucking nuts sometimes, but other times I found myself hanging off of Three Dog’s every word.
Like that night in the bunker.
“Good evening, Children,” he started. I was cleaning out my shotgun. “I’ve got an interesting opportunity for you adventurous types out there. Remember me talking about that cool cat James from Vault 101 a couple months back? Well, turns out, he’s gone missing.”
I think I stopped working at that point, but I didn’t absorb the words right away. I was staring off into space, letting the words hit me like a bag of bricks.
“Apparently, James went to go visit previous radio guest Doctor Li of Rivet City and had a bit of what we peaceful folk like to call a civil dispute. She hasn’t seen him since, and she has her feathers all ruffled over it. She’s asking you, that’s right, you, to go out and find her dear old friend.
“Now, don’t pass up the opportunity so quickly; this isn’t all complete charity on your part. No, no. Doctor Li requested that I relay her offer on the air, and also to inform you that a hefty sum of caps will be waiting for you if you can report James’s whereabouts to her in Rivet City. Think about it, children. He should be pretty easy to spot if he’s still got that Vault 101 suit on him.
“And now, some music…”
An upbeat swing song started to play. I hadn’t put much thought to the boss’s dad since I had the skirmish with Jericho.
I set my shotgun pieces aside.
There wasn’t much I could do. Say I wanted to get in touch with this doctor to let her know where her old pal was. I’d have to walk up to Rivet City, that human settlement on that aircraft carrier. You know, the big city that fucking hated ghouls and shot them on sight. And that mainframe. Computers and I were the best of enemies, and we liked to avoid each other just fine.
So the last option was to find someone to do it for me.
They were loud, not too stealthy. It was mostly the brahmin’s fault, really. Supplies clattered on its backside as it waddled forward along the river bank. I counted at least four guards. Good. The more the deadlier.
Even though they weren’t likely to hear me catch up, I picked a slow enough pace, but not slow enough to look suspicious. I had a scrawled note in my hand (written with a crappy chunk of charcoal) and I gripped it firmly, like I was worried the wind would blow it away. When I was about twenty feet behind them, one body guard slowed in her step, then she turned on me fast, pointing two shaved barrels towards me. I was at a safe enough distance not to be killed by a shot, but I was still careful. The merchant and his other guards turned, and he yanked on the brahmin’s reins to slow it down, looking back at me with wide eyes.
When three more guns were trained on me, I held my hands up. The guard didn’t like that. “Back the fuck off, zombie!” she shouted after me, and I grunted to myself. I guess I’d gotten too used to thinking not all smoothskins were so bad. I let my arms fall to my sides again, then tried to step forward. The guard blew off a shell to the side.
“I said, get lost!”
I should’ve known this was a shitty plan. Why did I think I could do business with some caravan? Maybe it was because of Quinn and Barrows, back in Underworld; they dealt with others a lot, including merchants and drug farmers. I thought everyone was itching for some caps and didn’t care if the hand it came from had skin or not.
“You’ve got to the count of five, asshole.” She was a little older, maybe in her mind thirties, with messy blonde hair pulled back in a bun and pale skin that had a tint to it (or a permanent layer of dirt). She had mean looking armour on, and I could see evidence of death and doom all over it. I might’ve been able to take on Jericho and his lousy cronies, but I’d have a bit more than trouble dealing with her.
Well…if plan A wasn’t going to fly, I was going to have to hope they took to plan B.
I raised my hands again and tossed the note to the ground. I walked backwards a few paces, then turned on my heel. Maybe I could go back to the metro tunnels, keep my ear planted to the radio, waiting to hear if anything happened. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to follow these people and make sure they did what I needed them to do.
I turned the corner of a building waited. It was down a slight hill, but it gave me a clear vantage point, without risk of being seen. I watched one of the body guards walk up to it, the trader a few paces behind him. The guard picked it up, and I felt a brief wave of relief go over me. They read the note together.
Dr. Li—he’s in Vault 112.