Happiness is a Warm Gun
I scared everyone shitless when I blew Ahzrukhal’s face off. Everyone except the boss, I should say. The most she did was flinch as the blood splattered across her face, and even after that, she was a little too calm. Between Ahzrukhal and this kid, she was like the Second Coming, but I still didn’t like her. Well, fuck it, I didn’t like anyone, in her defence.
Ghouls stared at us as we walked from the Ninth Circle, and those that weren’t running from the bloody scene were inching towards it slowly to see what had happened. I knew no one would come after me. Everyone hated Ahzrukhal, and everyone was scared of me—except her, apparently, who was stalking off down the stairs ahead of me. I followed her at a brisk pace, holding my shotgun like a threat. Not only was I relieved of service to Ahzrukhal, but I got to blow his head off too. I was fucking radiant.
When we stepped out into the open, I covered my eyes with my hand again, although I was a little bit more prepared for the brightness this time. Willow was gone, probably off somewhere making a mess of a super mutant nest. The boss hadn’t said anything to me, let alone look back at me when she left from the bar, but when we were halfway between the museum and the road, she paused. I stopped about three steps behind her, waiting. She was just standing there, motionless as a statue, then she turned around toward me. She was just fucking staring at me.
I grumbled under my breath. “Yes?”
“Let’s discuss a strategy,” she said, all business like she’d been with Ahzrukhal. “I hired you because I need protection. I’m not skilled in long range combat, and most in the Wasteland possess firearms. I’m going to need you to focus on enemies at a distance. Leave the close ones to me. Can you do that?”
Man, what a bitch.
I had to keep reminding myself that she was a lot better candidate to have my contract than Ahzrukhal. Besides, she was a lot easier on the eyes too. She looked towards the street, probably apprehensively, then started off again. Not much of a talker either. I supposed this was better, ’cause I wasn’t all too interested in having a conversation with her. But something bugged me about her condescending attitude towards me. Like I said, way better than Ahzrukhal, but still.
Though, let’s be fair. I would’ve disliked her more if she was a chatterbox. I wasn’t no babysitter. So I decided to sit back and enjoy the silence while it lasted. There was no chance she’d keep me around long before she sold my contract to someone else. ’Least, that’s what I thought at the time. I wouldn’t kill her when we parted ways like I’d done in Ahzrukhal. She didn’t deserve that. But I wasn’t exactly planning a fond farewell.
She started down the old metal escalator steps that led to the metro station underneath the museum, and I hung back to watch for attackers. I didn’t know where she was taking me, but I’d had an idea.
I hear a lot of conversations in the bar and remember them. A couple days earlier two jack asses were gossiping while the boss was still recovering in the Chop Shop.
“Did you see that smoothskin that came in here the other day?”
“Turns out she’s going to do that errand for Carol.”
“You mean, getting Gob back?” The guy snorted in his vodka, slapping a leathery hand on the table. “She’s been asking everyone for the past few years to go look for that guy. Why the hell is the smoothskin helping Carol out?”
“I dunno. maybe there’s caps in it for her. Apparently she knows where Gob is. Problem is, she got herself shot up just outside the museum just as she was leaving. Hopefully Carol doesn’t get her hopes up on this girl. I doubt she’ll last another five minutes on her own.”
“I’ll drink to that.”
Well, at least I knew vaguely what we were doing. I was a little confused when I’d heard she was going to give Carol a lending hand. I was under the impression that she was only out to find her dad. Sudden change of heart, I guess. Well, Carol was nice enough, based on the two or three times I’d seen her, so maybe the boss got sweet-talked into it. Whatever, maybe she was a little better than I gave her credit for.
We’d made it to the bottom of the escalators, and now she was struggling with the gate to get it open. The hinges had been rusted over from years of disuse. I stood there, waiting for her to finish her fight with the chainlink gate, but she kept struggling. Ah. Fuck. Did I need an order to do this?
I stepped up behind her, grabbed the gate with one hand and wrenched it open, the hinges shrieking. She shot her eyes up at me, and I looked down at her. She looked pissed. Her mouth was thin and taught, and I could see the daggers she was glaring at me. Then I realized I must’ve been standing too close to her for either of us to be comfortable. I stepped back a bit, and she continued to glare. I motioned my gun forward. “After you.”
The gate was wide enough for her to slip through, and as she did so she didn’t bother waiting for me. I shoved my way through the gap as quick as I could—her orders were to cover her from threat and I couldn’t do that if she was running away from me. Fuck.
I wasn’t used to having such a silent master. I was expecting her to start reforming me, as in telling me what and what not to do, but she never said anything. Why the fuck did she buy my contract? I’d heard her conversation with Ahzrukhal about hiring a mercenary, but if she didn’t like what was on his menu, why didn’t she go to someone else? Christ, I shouldn’t have been whining too much. I was grateful, in a way, but that didn’t change the fact that I thought she was as rigid as the pole stuck up her ass.
When we walked into the upper level of the train station, a feral ghoul screeched from somewhere nearby, it’s howl echoing across the train graveyard. I pulled my shotgun, smiling on the inside. The only thing that I enjoyed out of my contract was my ability to kill. I’m no serial killer, but when I have to protect my master from threats, I do it gladly. Combat was like fucking Christmas to me.
Any normal person as green as she was would’ve shit their pants, but the boss stepped up to the staircase and balled her fists. That was one thing that we had in common, I guess; we liked to kick the shit out of things that needed it.
I could hear the ghoul panting as it ran for the escalators, and I stepped in front of the kid, taking aim down the steps. When it ran out from the dark it reared its claw. It must’ve been four feet away from me when I peppered it with a shell. The body tumbled down the stairs. “Yeah, you like that?” I muttered.
I glanced at her sideways, then turned my head full towards her. She had more blood spattered on her. Man, I bet she loved that. “I had it,” she said.
“The target was at long range. I dealt with it as per my orders.”
She wiped some of the blood away, and with a cold stare she walked past me and headed down. I followed, feeling kinda pleased with myself for being a smart ass while still within my scope. I was guessing she didn’t bother reading the contract. Suited me just fine. I knew what the rules were.
We were headed down a platform between two trains when I heard something in between one of the old compartments. I was about to warn her about it, but she paused too. We listened. I couldn’t tell where it was exactly. But she could.
She flashed forward and reached in between the cars, tearing the intruder out from hiding and slamming him against the wall by the neck. I raised my shotgun to the raider’s face, but I didn’t dare fire—the kid was too close. But the way she held him—holy shit, she was holding him off the fucking ground—and his boots were kicking around uselessly. She had a good hold on him up until he kneed her in the chest. She stumbled backwards while he drew a gun.
No you don’t, motherfucker.
I blew him to chunks and he flew sideways, while his revolver fell a short distance away. His body hit the ground before hers hit the train behind her.
“Are you all right?” I had to make sure my employer was fine. That was one of the rules.
She didn’t answer me. Her chest rose and fell, and her eyes seemed to be locked on the wall across from her. I asked her again like she didn’t hear me when she looked at me. I don’t know if it was from seeing things get shot up, or from being this close to getting done in by some raider stray, but finally, she was looking a little scared. But there she went, storming off down the tunnel again. There was something different, something slower in her step.
Why the hell should I have cared how she walked, how she looked? If it wasn’t then, I started to hate her less and sympathize with her a little more after we made camp outside the metro. Sorry, boss, I wish I was a little bit less of an asshole back then, but I can’t change the past. No one can. Fuck this life. I thought it was bad just being a ghoul, but then there’s those memories kicking around in my head all the time.
Nah, scratch that. I’d rather remember than not.
I felt a little guilty for leading Charon across the D.C. ruins and part of the Wasteland in silence. It wasn’t that I was bothered by his slaughtering of Ahzrukhal, but that neither of us had anything to say to the other. We met no other threats again after the incident with the raider, but I was hoping for an ambush the entire way, any excuse for the silence. I knew that Charon and I weren’t going to be very talkative with each other, and that he didn’t mind my silence (I had the feeling he didn’t like me very much), but there was something uncomfortable about it, as if there was something both of us had to say, but couldn’t. Maybe I was so used to being alone for so long that I couldn’t recall what it was like to exchange words. Others carried the conversation for me, even with Amata. But maybe, just maybe, I needed to reach out to someone, I just needed to talk to get it all off my chest.
We were sitting around the fire he and I had built from scraps we found lying in the area just outside the metro entrance. I barely told him of my decision to make camp; instead, I mumbled something incoherent about a fire before I collected some things off the ground to use. I’m not sure if he just assumed I’d commanded him to help, but he helped, regardless. He kept his distance from me, and I guess I was thankful. That might sound wrong. It’s not that I found him repulsive. I just felt the need to distance myself from people in general. I was withdrawn.
We were sitting across from each other, the fire between us. He was taking apart his shotgun, recalibrating it, while I was staring into the fire uselessly. Despite walking through the trouble-ridden Wasteland for over a month, I hadn’t encountered someone close enough to have to use my training, up until that boy by the train. I hadn’t had to kill anyone yet. Not since…
I was bursting at the seams, and before I could hold myself back, I started to talk.
“I was trained as a security guard back in Vault 101.”
I didn’t look at him from across the fire, but from my peripheral vision, I could see him pause in his work with his gun and his head incline upwards towards me. I wondered if he could find interest in conversations or if he could only listen carefully for any orders that might have come his way. He didn’t say anything, but he didn’t need to. I just needed to say it all out loud. “I liked my job, too. I never really hurt anyone. I practiced non-violent crisis intervention. That was the most experience I’d had up until…”
I let my eyes fall to the ground before I continued, “I know you don’t care who I am, only that I hold your contract, but you don’t have to listen, if you don’t want to. I just need to speak my mind.”
There was more stillness and silence, but after a moment, he continued on his shotgun.
“No one ever left the Vault, but my father, he…He was a brilliant scientist and a doctor. It was just the two of us. Everything was fine, and he…I don’t know how he got the door open. But he left. He didn’t tell me he’d been planning on leaving. Or where he was going, or why he left me behind. I suppose he thought I’d be safe there, but there was a riot. No one was happy about him breaching the Vault and they had me to blame. I had to leave too. I’ve been alone ever since, so I apologize for the silence.”
“No need to apologize, mistress.”
So, he was listening. I was caught a little off guard, but I ensured he was still working on his shotgun before I continued. “I think…that wasn’t the root of my problems. When I left I killed my Overseer and my supervisor.”
His hands slowed slightly on the shotgun, but he didn’t stop. “I don’t know how much you know about Vaults. An Overseer is a kind of mayor, I suppose. But he was a man who was so blinded by his duty that he was willing to kill others to protect the idea of the Vault rather than its people. And my supervisor would do what he said without question. It was…I thought killing them was the right thing to do, considering how far the Overseer was willing to go. But. I can’t stop seeing the bodies. I took lives. My only friend’s father.
“I thought she hated him. He was torturing her when I saw them, but once he was dead, she…I don’t think I’ll ever get to see her again and I don’t think she’ll ever forgive me. ”
I hadn’t noticed that Charon had reassembled his shotgun and put it to the side long ago. He was staring at me like he was staring at a rather unpleasant sight. Chances are I was projecting whatever I wanted on to his face. If anything he was still probably waiting on an order.
I stood abruptly from the fire. Maybe getting things off my chest wasn’t the best idea, especially to someone whom I had forced to be in my company. Alone, away from the fire, I could see Amata clutching to her dead father, and her crying was like swallowing something sharp.
I turned, and through a faint silhouette from the fire in the short distance, I could make him out standing a few feet away from me. I tried avoiding looking into his eyes, or where I thought his eyes were, and I glanced to the ground. Why did he follow?
“I cannot protect you from harm if you wander off.”
Of course. I hesitated “I want to try something that I’m not sure will work.”
“If you ever have something you want to say, or need to say, or…just…speak your mind. If you can. Hold nothing back. Give the truth.”
I felt odd in the silence. I couldn’t tell if he was glaring me down, or simply staring. The darkness was too much to see beyond his outline. “Do you want me to take the first shift, or do you want it?”
I was expecting something else, along the lines of “Well, screw this noise,” so I was invariably caught off guard. I might have flinched a bit, but he didn’t say anything about it. “I will take it, if you don’t mind.”
His hand stretched out toward me, but I couldn’t see all of it. I felt like stepping back, but I searched the dark for his hand, trying to figure out what he was doing. “It’s a .44,” he explained, “it’ll be a little easier to keep watch with.”
It was the gun from the raider I had attacked earlier in the day. As soon as I took the gun from his hand he immediately turned and headed for the fire. I hoped no one would chance upon us, I hoped I wouldn’t have to use the gun. To murder again…
I stood just beside the fire, opening the chamber for a shot count and checking the mechanics, trying to discern how to use the weapon properly. Charon had spread out across the ground (I noticed just how tall he was laid out like that), and had fallen asleep. Or at least just closed his eyes. He looked like a corpse, lying there; his breathing was very shallow, and his appearance was enough to suggest he was already dead. Of course, I knew better, but I found myself staring at him for a long time, trying to comprehend what I had done. Everything, from when I killed Amata’s father to when I bought Charon’s contract, even giving him a command like I would a RobCo product.
When I watched him drift into sleep as if it were death, I wondered what it was exactly that I wanted or needed. I turned from the fire, looking into the darkness. There were still no answers in the dark, only more questions.