Lament

Ghosts of Slavers Past

The moment the boss told me to stop jerkin’ her around, I felt like some sort of cat was batting around a ball of yarn inside my head. I’d never had that order before. I didn’t think it could work. Baseline was: be polite, submit to the master, never fail an order. So now things started to unwind, and I felt odd, like a heavy weight just got taken off my back and I could stand tall for the first time in years. She wanted me to be straight with her, and if it had been the first time I’d met her, I woulda let loose. But she had just told me that she killed a couple people she probably didn’t need to, and it would have felt like kicking a puppy to tell her off. Besides, after that sob story…well, telling her off didn’t feel so “truthful” anymore.

She couldn’t have been more than twenty, but she acted like she’d lived her entire life already. Well, yeah, I suppose it had something to do with losing her father and killing her best friend’s dad. From the story she was telling I thought she was gonna cry on me, but she’d said everything like it was mildly boring. She was throwing me all sorts of shit, and I wasn’t ready enough to catch it all. When she told me to let loose, I felt more free, but at the same time, I didn’t. I wouldn’t go so far as to say she gave me the creeps; I’m the ghoul, after all, and she was coming on as a pretty open-minded smoothskin. Deep down, I probably wanted to…ugh, comfort her, but I didn’t know how. I still wouldn’t know how.

I woke up maybe three hours later. I rarely slept, being that I was on constant guard for Ahzrukhal. Fucking dick shouldnt’ve pissed off so many people if he was that paranoid. I opened my eyes to see the boss standing with her back to me, staring out into the dark. I stood slowly, then walked around the fire toward her. When she didn’t turn around, I reached out to tap her on the shoulder. She turned real slow toward me. She’d washed her face and hair while I was out, water gleaming on her cheeks. “Are you sure you’ve slept enough?” she asked, voice higher than usual.

“Yeah, I’ll take over from here.”

She slid the gun into her belt, then moved past me toward the other side of the fire. Her arm brushed mine as she walked by, and I felt her recoil. Yeah, well, fuck you, miss prissy, I didn’t wanna touch you either. I scowled into the darkness and just hoped some punk ass raider would jump us right now. I had a feeling there wouldn’t be any threats, but the moment you let down your guard is the moment you get your ass done in. I heard her settle in the dirt, and I was assuming she’d gone to sleep after five minutes of quiet, but her voice broke through the silence like a hot knife through brahmin butter.

“How did you end up with that contract?”

I guess I got the wrong impression; she actually did like to talk a lot. But I didn’t have to tell her dick all anymore. Hah! “You should get some sleep.”

“There aren’t a lot of details in the agreement,” she continued, ignoring my suggestion. I rolled my eyes. “None of them really say anything about you. What happened?”

“I don’t know. Now get some rest.”

There was a pause. I looked to my side as if I were expecting her to retort and carry it further. I had to suppress a groan when she did. “What do you mean, you don’t know?”

“I don’t want to get into that shit right now.”

“You can’t remember?”

Look,” I said, turning around. I held a finger out towards her like I was chastising some sort of dumb animal, “you don’t get to sleep, I’ll make you get some sleep.”

That was fucking ballsy of me. And I could never actually act on that threat, because there was no way I could ever actually physically harm her, not with the contract in her hands. She didn’t seem to care if I’d threatened her or not. Her face didn’t change—it was blank as usual. Was she scared off, was she mad, or was she still determined to squeeze a bed time story out of me? “All right,” she said pretty quietly, then she turned halfway around, laid back, then rolled onto her side away from me. Okay, so I’m a raging fucking asshole, but I’d be lying if I said I felt better after that.

I groaned out a sigh, turning around again. We were back to back, but I think it was easier to tell her my sob story that way. “You wanna hear this, then?”

I didn’t look back, and I didn’t hear her shift around towards me, either. “Yes.”

“All right, well…I don’t remember anything past fifteen years ago. First thing I can remember is being locked up in a slave pen in Paradise Falls with one of those slave collars strapped around my neck. I had a few buddies in there with me, and we were mostly all ghouls, but every time some customer came in, they were always more interested in me. I couldn’t tell why. No one ever bought me, though, which I thought was fucking ridiculous. I don’t know why I was so interesting. I look like the shitty end of the stick, after all. People kept coming for me, though, and they kept going without me. I wasn’t complaining much, I guess; I preferred being a slave in waiting rather than someone’s bitch. But I had to be bought out eventually. After most of the other ghouls were sold off, some guy wandered in, asking specifically for me, then bought me before I even saw him. That was Schafer.

“He owned some first-gen Power Armour that had seen some cleaner days. The way he carried himself, I knew he didn’t just happen on the suit. He was one of those Brotherhood bastards. Turns out he was an outcast, but I never asked why. Wasn’t my place to. Anyway, once we left Paradise Falls, he showed me my contract for the first time. I claimed I knew nothing about it, but once I read it over, I realized I already did know it, like I’d known it my whole life. After he gave me a command, just to test the thing out, we found out that it wasn’t just a bunch of bullshit; I couldn’t do anything against my orders, or else…I couldn’t even tear the paper up, I got so sick. Schafer rarely used it on me again, but he didn’t throw it away either. If he did, though, I don’t know what I’d do. I had visions of him tossing it over a cliff and me throwing myself after it.

“Anyway, it turns out that he knew about me, said I was some sort of Wasteland legend, and that I was the last of the bunch. I never did ask him much about that, thought it was just crazy talk. Schafer usually did spout out a bunch of crap.

“I went around with him for a couple of months, helping ourselves to scrap we could find in the Wastes and trading it with the caravans. He was a pretty open guy, so I asked him a couple of times why exactly he’d bought me. It’s not like he needed help out there. Every time, though, he brushed me off, claiming he just needed the company. I always thought there was more to it than that, but I never found out. We came across Underworld after a while, and he got drunk in the Ninth Circle one night, blathering off how he’d rescued me from the slavers. The fucking idiot went as far as to show the bartender my contract. That was Ahzrukhal, and, well, you knew Ahzrukhal. He killed Schafer in his sleep, then took my contract for himself. So for the past fifteen years, up ’til today, I was in his charge. That little piece of paper…I dunno.”

I stopped. Nothing more to add. Except…“Heh…honestly, boss, I just spoke more in the last five minutes than I have since Schafer got himself done in.”

Silence filled the gap in between our turned backs. Yeah, uh…that sounds too deep for me, forget I said that. After a while, curiosity got the best of me, and I looked back over my shoulder to see if she’d fallen asleep. I found her propped up on her elbows, staring at me.

I hated smoothskins simply for their attitude, making life more fucking miserable than it already was for ghouls, but the boss wasn’t like most smoothskins. I think that’s why it was easier to notice how her long blonde hair looked when in fell over her shoulders, how her eyes were so easy to stare into sometimes, and how her pale white skin glowed in firelight. I sound like such a fucking pussy, but really, she was…yeah, fuck it, she was beautiful. Go fuck yourself. I turned back around real quick.

“Charon,” she said so quietly, it was almost like a whisper. She didn’t say anything else, but I could tell she was trying to be all sympathetic and shit.

“That’s all I got, boss,” I said, backpedaling for all I was worth. “Now go to sleep.”

I think about an hour passed before I decided to shift positions, and I took a peek towards her as I moved past. She’d fallen asleep on her back, like she’d been watching the stars.


“Hey, wake up,” Charon said, nudging my elbow with a boot. He was standing over me, and I could see the sky tinted light shades of blue, pink, and yellow, acting as a background to his silhouette. “We should get a move on.”

I probably had twice as much sleep as he did. That was unusual for me, as I’d come accustomed to functioning on a handful of hours per night. I’d always been on edge, sleeping out in the Wastes with one eye open, but I think knowing I had someone keeping watch put me at far too much ease than it should have.

I took the revolver from my belt and handed it back to Charon. “I don’t do well with firearms,” I admitted, trying to get him to take it from me.

“You need it more than I do. Keep it as a security blanket, if you want. I’m not taking it back.”

I considered ordering him to take it but thought the better of it. Every time I ordered anything I felt deplorable.

I found a place for the gun in the waistband of my khakis and engaged my Pip-Boy. It was a personal bio-powered device that every resident of a Vault wore. It contained vital signs checks, inventory management software, and more importantly for us, a map of roughly a twenty-five mile radius. Megaton was about ten miles west, as the crow flies. It would take the greater part of the day to get there. I planted my marker on the map, and an indicator appeared on the digital compass. We headed out, but he never fell into step next to me. He was always hanging in the rear.

I had a bag of trail mix I had purchased from Carol the morning before I left Underworld. Everything in it was starting to spoil, but it was edible enough. “Are you hungry?” I asked, not looking back.

“No.”

I didn’t say anything else to him the entire way there.

I heard him mumbling incoherently once in a while, and I discerned it as hopes for an enemy to come by, anything to shoot at. It was a little grim, but I supposed it was his calling in life. After I’d forced him to share his life story with me the night before, I felt like I’d pushed him too far, like he wanted nothing more than to avoid me at any cost. I’d hoped that when I had finished bringing Gob home to Underworld that I could sell the binding slip of paper to another, more benevolent master than Ahzrukhal had been. Perhaps someone that didn’t force him to share personal details.

By the time we had reached Megaton, it was past sunset, nearly dark. Deputy Weld, the oddly programmed Protectron, opened the gates for us as we approached. “WELCOME TO MEGATON. THE BOMB IS COMPLETELY SAFE, WE PROMISE.”

The engine’s roar was like the town itself was a gigantic beast. I think I heard Charon mumble: “I don’t like the look of this place,” but I couldn’t quite hear him. Or maybe that’s what I wanted to hear. I didn’t take to very many people in Megaton upon my first visit, for most of them were repugnant individuals. Maybe I was too presumptuous, but most of them seemed to be dishonest.

I could just make out the familiar shape of Lucas Simms standing outside his door. He was the sheriff who wished to keep things lawful but was fighting an uphill battle. He was the first person I met outside of Vault 101, and he had set a standard of what I expected of others that was unreasonable.

He gave me a friendly enough wave but I saw his eyes linger on Charon. I suppose the blood-stained leather armour wasn’t the most welcoming of sights, but Simms seemed to brush this off, perhaps under the assumption that if Charon was traveling with me, he would behave.

We walked around the top of the crater on the catwalk and passed several of Megaton’s finer establishments. When we moved past Craterside Supply, Charon let out a low whistle, cursing under his breath. I followed his gaze to the bomb that sat in the center of the crater down below, well-lit by flood lights, where a few members from the Church of Atom were holding a nighttime sermon.

“It’s dormant, but it can still go off,” I explained.

His mouth was slightly open as he stared at it before he asked: “What the fuck were these people thinking?”

“They had bravado, and they wanted deterrence, I suppose.”

“You wanna say that in English?”

I glanced at him sideways. “The bomb offered protection. There weren’t many others willing to bring themselves that close to a live atomic bomb.”

“So, this town is full of people out of their fucking tree?”

I smiled briefly, killing it as quick as I could.

We continued up the stairs opposite, climbing the path that led to Moriarty’s Saloon, where Gob worked, feeling increasingly nervous. I knew I would be able to handle his carefully chosen words and his manipulating ways without getting lost to vulnerability, but I was worried that if I faltered for even a second, my chances of saving Gob would be lost. My sudden change of heart to helping Carol was odd enough, but my sudden urgency to ensure I did this right was misplaced. It wasn’t about Gob—I barely knew him. I just needed to do something right.

Muted chatter and inebriated laughter emanated from the saloon door, and my hand hesitated at the door handle.

“Hey, boss.”

I looked at Charon. He didn’t want anything, but was giving me a look that said “Just do it.”

I pushed through.

The bar was a cesspool of everything distasteful. Dried alcohol gleamed on the floors and tables, the air was heavy from a room too cramped, and the fetor of excessive sex was an oppressive weight. The first time I wandered into Moriarty’s, it all had hit me hard, but now it hit me harder.

The bar was full with the same recognizable patrons, but I didn’t give so much as a second glance to any of them. Gob was leaning over the counter, pouring a glass of vodka and Nuka-Cola. I felt like I was walking into a trap as I made my to him, except it was one I’d laid myself.

“Gob,” I said quietly, as if I were trying to hide something. He looked up at me, giving me an odd look, as if he recognized me, but he wasn’t sure who I was.

“Oh,” he said, sounding rather unimpressed. “I remember you. Left the Vault up the hill a couple months back, right?”

“Just about,” I said sitting down on a stool. Gob slid the glass down the counter to a man in an eye patch, and the man took the beverage with a slow hand, tilting the drink to his lips with careful movements. “I need to talk to Moriarty. Is he around?”

Gob scarcely looked up at me, but shifted his eyes toward the closed door behind him. “He’s with Nova.”

I looked to the back door, a disgusted, sinking feeling growing in my stomach. “I see,” I muttered as Charon took the stool next to me. Gob moved to the radio, turning up the volume slightly, before looking to me. “So, smoothskin, what will it—”

He paused, looking to Charon. Gob didn’t have much for skin on his face, but I could see his muscles fall in an expression of shock. I looked to Charon, and he was glowering in return. “You want somethin’?” he asked, resting his fists on the counter in front of him.

“Charon, that’s you?” Gob said, leaning on the counter, almost mimicking his stance. “God, I haven’t seen you since Paradise Falls. Been about fifteen years, hasn’t it?”

I looked between Charon and Gob. Charon’s brow (or what was left of it) furrowed. He leaned back. “You know me?”

“You don’t remember me?” Gob asked, an odd smile revealing a set of slightly chipped teeth. “You and I were slaves in that God-forsaken hell hole for five years before I was sold. I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”

I kept my eyes on the counter in between Gob and Charon. The bartender shifted on his feet, then picked up a glass to busy himself with, wiping it down briefly with his dirty rag. I heard Gob let out a short, weak laugh, which sounded more like a tsk. “You don’t remember, do you?”

The door directly behind Gob opened, and Nova stepped out, lighting a cigarette. As soon as the door handle turned, Gob’s eyes shot downward, and he grabbed at something else to work on. Moriarty strutted out shortly after Nova, and his eyes immediately fell upon me.

He smiled his calculating smile, nodding his head towards me. “Come back for that information on your dad, yes?” but then his eyes shifted to Charon beside me, and his face fell, like Gob’s had. Apparently Charon was more well-known than I’d been led to believe. He stood from the stool, eyeing both Moriarty and Gob down, before he turned to me pointedly.

I looked up at him, and I saw the confusion and the discomfort in his stance, subtle as they were. He wanted out. “Wait outside for me.”

He turned from me the moment I stopped talking, and he stalked out of the bar. A few eyes were trained on him as he left, and I didn’t blame them; apart from being a ghoul, he was noticeable by his sheer height. I watched him go briefly with the other onlookers before I turned back to Gob and Moriarty. Without him there, I felt like I had willingly discarded my only weapon in the face of a deathclaw.

Gob tried to look busy as he stared after Charon. The moment I heard the front door close behind him, Moriarty’s lips turned into a snarl, and he smacked the back of Gob’s head. “Why didn’t you say that bastard was in the bar?”

Gob had flinched forward from the smack, but he slowly recovered, not so much as touching his hand to the spot. “He just got in, Mister Moriarty.”

“Ah, you useless slob,” Moriarty grumbled, turning toward me. An eyebrow cocked upward, and his lips reformed into a slight smile. “I suppose you led Charon in here, young lady?”

I stood. “I’d like to have a word with you in private, Moriarty.” I did not want to negotiate the terms of Gob’s release with the ghoul in question standing right there, like he was chattel. I particularly did not want Gob to be present should my attempts for his barter failed.

I saw the old man’s eyes flicker toward the door, then he nodded once towards me. “Certainly. Step into my office.”

I felt even more unnerved about isolating myself in Moriarty’s personal quarters, but talking in the bar would surely draw dangerous attention. I walked firmly around the counter, meeting Moriarty at the opposite end. He let me in first, then closed the door behind me. Pungent sex robbed me of my breath.

“So, my sweet Star of the Wastes,” Moriarty said, walking around me and twisting his computer chair around to face me. He sat down, legs spread and arms folded across himself casually. “You’ve come to make a deal, I hope?”

“I’m not here to collect information on my father,” I said sternly. “I’m here to negotiate Gob’s release.”

“Hah!” Moriarty unfolded his arms to slap his knee. “I’d expected more from you. You came all the way back here with such valuable merchandise in order to save that sorry sop?”

I looked over him cautiously.

“You don’t know?” Moriarty questioned with a sarcastic chuckle. “That ghoul you sauntered in here with just so happens to be the last contracted servant in the Wastes,” he explained, motioning with his hands as if beginning on an epic tale of heroism. “Oh so many years ago, that poor soul was brainwashed into serving anyone who held his contract. But I assume you know that already; he wouldn’t be following you if you didn’t have that paper.”

I should have walked out then. But I was blinded by my promise to get Gob out of there quickly and return to finding my father. “Yes,” I said quietly, “but we’re getting off topic.”

“Oh, you think so?” Moriarty said, leaning forward on his knees, “because I think this has everything to do with the topic at hand.”

“I want to pay off Gob’s debt to you.”

“And what’s your offer?”

“His debt.”

He smiled at me slyly. “I highly doubt you have the caps to pay for that sack of shit,” Moriarty said, checking the nails on one of his hands, “but if you’re willing to do a trade rather than a purchase, I might be interested.”

That look he gave Charon at the bar, I should have known…but I had to dig further, being that Moriarty seemed to know more about Charon’s past than the ghoul did himself. “What’s your interest in Charon?”

“O—ho, I thought you’d never ask.” He stood and slinked towards me. I stepped back but he stepped closer, and instead of letting him corner me I stood my ground. Standing far too close, he folded his hands behind his back and spoke overly-jubilantly.

“I went to purchase a slave for my fine establishment, oh…fifteen years back. I was looking for muscle and service work, see. But all they had were fucking ghouls. Not much use those are, unless you’re looking for live target practice. But, caps were tight, and beggars can’t be choosers, can they?

“Despite my prejudice against these skinless bastards, one ghoul in the catalogue turned out to be far more interesting than anything else they could have offered me. A contracted servant, absolutely unfaltering to the owner of a little slip of paper. He would’ve been a perfect addition to my fine establishment, had he not cost a fucking fortune.

“So, the sad tale ends that Moriarty only had enough to pay for lovely little Gob, the sorry little ass. I carted him back home, fuming over the loss of the best commodity I’d ever find. But, my dear, I’m glad to say that I’ve moved on from the slaving business, and I’ll have none of it in my saloon, not over my dead body. However, there’s nothing illegal about having a servant who’ll be loyal to me for the sake of loyalty, yes?”

“No. I’m not ‘trading’ Charon for Gob. I’m willing to pay off his debt in exchange for his freedom.”

“Ah, well, that’s unfortunate,” Moriarty said, getting even closer. Our toes were almost touching. “I was really hoping you and I would understand each other’s interests.” He slung an arm over my shoulder, peering into my face. I could smell the scent of alcohol and Nova on his breath, and I turned my head away from him. “Of course, we could make other arrangements…”

I disentangled from him calmly. “I’m willing to pay caps for Gob.”

“Oh, I see,” Moriarty said, leaning towards me and folding his hands behind his back. “You have ten thousand caps, do you?”

I wasn’t going to let him get to me. “How could anyone possibly find themselves that far in debt to you?"

“Oh, but I’ve spent plenty of years paying for Gob’s food and shelter, and if he isn’t a slave, he’s a tenant, and he is in a right debt to pay off those services. Not forgetting the amount I paid to extricate him from his slaver’s pen.”

“Five thousand.”

He smirked. "Ten.”

“Six.”

“You touched? Ten.” He’d long since dropped the friendly tone.

I had no advantage here. He had eyes only for Charon.

Ten thousand caps. Even if I did have all the caps to set Gob free, I had the sneaking suspicion that Moriarty would never let Charon’s appearance leave his mind. He would steal from me, scheme me, cheat us until he had what he wanted. He would haunt me as long as I had Charon in my company and prise the contract from my cold dead hands.

“My offer still stands,” Moriarty said quietly. “I’m willing to trade Charon and his contract for Gob, straight across, no strings attached.”

I should have known I would be too far over my head when I agreed to Carol’s proposal, I should have known to back out of that bar the moment Moriarty’s evil eyes locked onto Charon. I should have known.


“Charon,” I said quietly. He was leaning up against the outside of Moriarty’s Saloon casually, looking grim, or I suppose in his words, “Pissed.”

He looked down at me, unfolded his arms and stood tall. “So?” he said, stepping toward me.

At that moment, Moriarty stepped out of the bar behind me, and I couldn’t bring myself to look Charon in the eye.

“Well, you must be Charon,” Moriarty chimed cheerfully. He pronounced it like “Sharon.” “Glad to have you on the team.”

I didn’t look up at Charon, but I knew his eyes were shifting between me and Moriarty. “What the fuck is going on?”

“Ah-ah,” Moriarty chided, shaking a finger at Charon, “there’ll be none of that language.”

“Look, asshole, I—”

Moriarty lifted the contract.

“I’ll be going by master, not ’asshole’,” Moriarty said sternly. “Now, get inside. I want you to keep watch over the customers until I say otherwise.”

“Yes, master.”

I can’t quite accurately describe how I felt to hear those words. Heavy. Too much weight to bear.

As Charon started after Moriarty into the bar, I looked up into his eyes, but he did not look at me. His eyes were straight ahead, as if I actually wasn’t there at all. I turned on my heel to watch him go and the door closed swiftly behind him, but it slammed inside my head. I was going to turn and leave, having forgotten my purpose there, when I heard a bottle break inside and someone give a shout of surprise.

The door banged back open, and I heard Nova shout “Gob!” before the ghoul was shoved bodily from the bar with a sack in his hand, and the door swung shut once again. He looked at the door with the most shocked expression. Either he was elated to be free, or he was still trying to piece together what had happened to him. I thought he would be pleased. I thought he’d ask me if I’d saved him.

“Gob?”

He looked over at me, searching me top to bottom with the same bewildered look on his face. “Did you trade Charon for me?”

“Yes. Carol sent me to take you home.” I managed to say this around the lump in my throat.

His eyes flashed, but the look died away quickly. “Oh.”

I sighed heavily, shuffling my feet towards the ramp that led down. “We can make camp just outside the walls, and head out at daybreak."

He looked towards the bar door again, a sense of longing hanging on his features. “Yeah.”

As I started off towards the exit of Megaton, I heard Gob’s heavy steps follow behind me. Charon, I have wronged you, I thought. I’m sorry.


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