Lament

Astrophel

I was making my usual rounds again, my shotgun drawn, but held at ease as to not intimidate the other scientists, should they happen to walk by. None of them liked me, not even the boss’s dad, not since I showed up. A lot of them seemed ready to chase me away scalpels and syringes, but after a while, they figured out I was just fucking crazy, because I wanted to hang around and protect them while they were there, so they stopped.

Everyone still avoided me and treated me like the plague, but they let me be. I didn’t exactly tell them why I was there. No one seemed keen on asking either. I think I heard their supervisor, Doctor Li (who turned out to be a fucking bitch), arguing with James to hire someone to drive me away, but no one ever did anything about it. Stuck with me.

It was about a month back that I’d heard James had been found. The caravan who’d dropped off the information accepted the reward (which was enough to retire three times over) had helped in the rescue team. From what I heard, a lot of mercenaries and Wastelanders went out to try and save James. Someone out there must’ve known more about computers than I did, because they got him out okay. After that, Three Dog spread the word that Doctor Li and James planned to go back and start up a long lost project. He didn’t say where, but he didn’t need to. I’d been there already.

I knew I’d be less welcome than a feral dog at a tea party, but I felt this vague drive that was almost like how an order felt with my contract. I couldn’t do anything to stop it. Going to the memorial to protect her dad was bringing me back to her again.

The first time I showed up at the memorial, everyone freaked. They assumed I was there to kill them, and I suppose it was smart to do so, but all of them were repulsed. I thought that being scientists would make them more open-minded, but they all hated ghouls just like every other fucker. James even gave me that look that said he was disgusted with the idea of me, but he still asked me to leave nicely. He spoke a lot like she did.

“Please, there’s no need for trouble here,” he told me, a legion of men and women in lab coats standing behind him, “we ask that you leave immediately so that we might continue our work.”

I didn’t go. “Need protection?”

They looked at me funny. Well, funnier than the queer looks they were all giving me to begin with. “No, the only thing we need is for you to leave.”

He was a bad fucking liar. I left to make him feel better, but I hung around the perimeter. Someone would find me wandering around the facility here or there. I staved off a couple of lame attacks, both from the scientists inside and super mutants on the outside. Trust was slow to build, but it needed time. The researchers settled with just giving me dirty looks and shaking their heads whenever they saw me, but I knew that they were the slightest bit grateful for me keeping the super mutants at bay. There was a growing pile of bodies on the terrace, but no one seemed to mind. If they did, they weren’t eager to ask me to clean it up. That would mean accepting the fact that I was there to stay.

I was walking through the gift shop again when I heard someone coming up behind me. It was a surprise—it was late at night, and everyone was usually asleep by now, not to mention no one ever approached me if they could help it. I kept my pace though, stopping only when I came to the door that led to the front hallway. I waited patiently before turning back around again.

James stopped in his tracks, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his lab coat. “Hello, there.”

“Evening.”

When he kept staring at me in silence, I started to try to pass him. After I breezed by, I could hear James take in a breath to say something, and I paused.

“I wanted to apologize.” He had the smoothest voice I’d ever heard, and it made me want to dislike him. The guy was just too damn genuine, though.

I turned halfway around to face him, and he was turned halfway towards me. “I won’t pretend that your services here have been appreciated. We haven’t exactly treated you with proper hospitality and respect.”

I shrugged. His apology or gratitude didn’t really matter. As long as I could watch over his back and make sure he was all right, I could go on being happy. I stood around, waiting to see if he had anything more to say, because he seemed to hesitate a lot. He eventually muttered “Sorry,” then asked quickly: “why are you doing this?”

I’d wondered how long it would take before anyone had the balls to actually ask me that. Now that he’d put the question out in the open, though, I didn’t know how to respond. I had the answer to give him right there, but I didn’t want to. It would open a whole new can of worms. How do you tell someone that you were affiliated with his late daughter?

I hesitated too, so he continued. “I suppose I’ve been extremely short-sighted. I always taught my daughter to be accepting of others, and…the first time I saw you, I have to admit, I was very prejudiced.”

Well, fuck you, Mr. Picture Perfect. I ground my teeth together. He looked sorrier by the second. To the guy’s credit, ghouls didn’t have the friendliest of faces. We did kind of look like chewed up brahmin.

But mentioning the boss…well, that made me back off a little. He gave me this weak smile—almost like hers too—then looked to the floor.

“I’m very grateful for what you’ve done, but I have nothing to offer, if that’s what you’re after.”

“No.” I was trying to avoid the initial question, and he was making it easier for me.

He chuckled dryly. “I’m sorry, I’m being rude. We haven’t been properly introduced yet. My name is James,” he said, sticking out his hand.

I almost said “I know.” I looked at his hand hanging there. I didn’t shake hands in practice, even ones without skin. James would probably hate the feel of my tissue on his, but I didn’t want to be rude and leave him hanging. So I shook it and muttered, “Charon.”

“Charon? Is that your birth name?”

Him opening with trying not to be an ignorant dick killed any chance of me breeding resentment. “No. I was given that name a long time ago. I was Scavo before.”

“Interesting. I think its pre-war origins were Italian. I’m not exactly sure what it would mean, though.”

I shrugged. “Slave, maybe.”

“Why would you say that?”

“Long story.”

I’d spoken more words together since I’d left Jericho behind in the dust. It made me briefly think over my various Wasteland enemies, wondering if they were still coming after me, whether any of them were still alive or in any condition to do me in. If they were, they probably wouldn’t come for me for a long time, not to Jefferson Memorial. I wouldn’t be expected there.

James looked to my armour and my shotgun again, then back at me. “So, you’ve done this sort of thing your whole life, is that it?”

“More or less.” I was surprised to realize I wasn’t eager to get back to patrolling. Talking with the old guy wasn’t so bad.

“Then why here?”

Did I mention it? I couldn’t hide it forever. It’d have to come up eventually.

“Your daughter asked me to.”

She hadn’t really, but it was a lot safer to say than the whole truth.

He blinked a few times, his smile faltering. “My…daughter?”

“Blonde hair, dark brown eyes?”

“Yes, that’s her, but…she was supposed to be in Vault 101. I left her there to keep her safe. Why did she leave?”

Ah, shit. I hated being the messenger. “She was chased out.”

It was like I’d punched him in the jaw. “Damn!” he muttered under his breath, bringing a hand to his face. “I should have known…but why did she ask you to do this? Where is she now?”

Fucking hell. What do I do? I thought. How do I say this?

“I don’t know.”

He shook his head slowly, sadly. “How can she be out there on her own?”

I pictured her laying there in front of the Vault door, a cap over her mouth. Her skin was so pale, it almost glowed in the dark. I had wanted to stroke her face, just to feel her skin one more time. “She’s pretty tough. She was holding her own last time I saw her.”

James nodded, but he didn’t look convinced. “Dammit…I want to go after her, but…I know it sounds selfish, but I can’t leave the project again, else it will fall apart a second time.”

It’s a good thing he didn’t want to go after her, or else I’d have to explain why I was really there, I’d have to tell him she was dead. Instead, my mouth opened before I could consider the weight of what I was about to say.

“She asked me to watch out for you because she might not come back for a while.”

He gave me another look that spoke volumes, although this face wore surprise and disbelief. “What?”

“She was headed out west when we last spoke. She wasn’t sure when she’d come home.”

I might as well have told him she’d died, he looked so crushed. There was just no way I could bring myself to give him the truth; it would mean I’d have to live it all over again too.

“She’s gone, then,” he said heavily. “It’s unexpected, but…as long as she’s doing what she thinks is right. As long as she’s safe. I need to find a way to reach her, though…perhaps a letter…”

I just nodded.

“How was it that you crossed paths, then?”

I paused again. “I was in a bind, and she helped me out of it. Then we did a job together. Brought a friend of mine home.”

“And that’s when she left?”

“Yeah.”

James nodded and looked away from me, a fist pressed underneath his mouth. “Were you two relatively close?”

Ah, fuck you, buddy, what kind of question is that? “Yeah,” I said, surprising myself, “I guess we were.”

He started laughing. “You know, I’d argued to her forever about befriending people, but she was never interested. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m surprised it was you who she chose as a companion.”

I laughed. Holy fuck, I laughed. The sound was a little odd—I don’t think I’d ever laughed aloud my whole life. And it was over the least funny thing I’d ever heard. “I am too.”

“Well, Charon,” James said, though I could still hear the disappointment from the bad news weighing down his voice, “thank you again for your protection. And…thank you for reaching out to my daughter. I’m sure I appreciate it just as much as she did, if not more.”

I didn’t say anything.

“Well… to be honest with you, I’ve been wanting to ask you that for days, and tonight I simply couldn’t sleep until I got that off my chest,” he admitted, giving me a sheepish grin. “I’m sorry to interrupt your rounds.”

“It’s fine.”

“Charon. It’s been a pleasure.”

“Yeah.”

He walked past me, giving me a friendly smile before disappearing in the shadows between light fixtures. I saw him open the door to the subbasement and slip inside silently, closing it gently behind him. Honestly, I was starting to like the guy.
I wondered if I’d ever tell him the truth about her, though. I didn’t think it’d be possible anytime soon, but if the old man let me hang around him for a while, I’d eventually tell him. There was guilt fishing around in my head. It started to seep back into loss. I suddenly wasn’t interested in doing my fucking pointless patrol of the empty hallways anymore (I never found anything inside the memorial, anyway), so I walked through the hallway towards the door that led to the outside.

Luckily for me, the terrace on that side of the memorial had only two super mutant bodies , and they were far off, so I didn’t have to look at them. I stood in the cool night air for a while, just breathing deep, trying to get the fresh air through my lungs. I was starting to feel a little better.

After a while, I started feeling…oh, I don’t know, sentimental is probably the best word, and I looked up to the sky. It was clear, with no moonlight, and I could see a shitload of stars. I never did have much interest in stars, considering I’d spent the last fifteen years of my life cooped up in a bar.

And I thought of her. It wasn’t bad this time, though, they were easier to deal with. Contenting, even. If I believed in this shit, which I don’t, so fuck off, I wondered if she could still see the stars, wherever she was now. I always did think she was one for star gazing. I suppose it didn’t hurt to admit it to myself that I hoped she could.



When I was younger, my father always used to tell me that people before the war would look to the stars and make wishes upon them. I told him I thought it was ridiculous. Now…

Even after all of the horrible things I’d seen in the Wasteland, the stars at night always calmed me. There was something there that was just out of my reach, but always there to see. I did say I thought it was ridiculous, but…I think I understood.

In a world this ugly, people need something beautiful to instill hope in them.


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