Hope…hope always remains.
We’ve been killing each other since the dawn of our species. Tribes vying for power as civilizations rose and fell. Entire nations wiped from the face of the earth for worshipping a different god than their neighbors. As time progressed we developed more efficient ways to annihilate one another until finally…we accomplished our subconscious mission in a blaze of nuclear fire. But not all was destroyed. Our civilized way of life was preserved as citizens were selected to reside in underground bunkers…known as Vaults. These underground Vault Dwellers combined their ingenuity and burrowed deep into the Earth, creating subterranean kingdoms.
And yet human nature will never change.
Tribalism is an innate human instinct that drives us to separate from one another. Opposing ideals, values, and religions will forever divide humanity. It was there, two hundred years after the bombs fell, beneath the irradiated sands of our scorched Earth, amidst a divided subterranean kingdom, where certain ideals were forged into the heart of one individual who would one day unite a fractured people against yet another threat of annihilation. After generations below ground, the Vault Dweller emerged from the depths…of Vault 186.
Above ground, crumbled and scattered across the Earth were the remnants of a long forgotten school. A place of learning and hope for the future now served as one of many countless examples of humanity’s inability to maintain peace. Deep beneath the toxic surface another example pulsed with activity. A shinning display of technological wonders frozen from the year 2077; the year technological advancement ended. At least, major instances of technological advancement were halted. Necessity and human ingenuity together will almost always produce convenient and sometimes lifesaving innovations. The Vault was an interactive community; an enormous ant-hive designed to house a large human population. In its infancy, the underground bunker town boasted nearly five hundred American citizens.
Slowly, over the course of two centuries, a vibrant society numbering just over five thousand citizens bristled with activity beneath the stone and sands of a lost nation. No longer were they citizens of America; that country no longer existed. They were residents of the vault and their society, their civilization, was their own.
At the head of that society sat an individual entrusted with not just the safety and wellbeing of each and every one of the vault’s citizens, but with aiding in the direction each individual took towards the betterment of their society. It was his responsibility to oversee the advancement of each young mind and guide them through their developing years, extending that guidance to the parents of those young minds just as his predecessor did for him. It was fitting then that those who held his position were named the Overseer of the vault.
Miguel Suarez, Overseer of Vault 186, leaned forward in his seat, letting his hands rest upon the flat platform of the round, crescent moon shaped terminal that served as the base of operations for his office. Miguel was far along in his years with a dark brown complexion and grayish white hair that extended halfway down the back of his neck. His face harbored a subtle amount of wrinkles for his age and was slightly elongated with puffy cheeks, ending with a square chin. His forehead was small but not abnormally so and his green eyes sank more deeply than most into their sockets which gave the aging community leader a natural appearance of solemn compassion.
Miguel gazed into the monitors lining his terminal with a furrowed brow. Another round of protests were in full swing at a dozen locations scattered throughout the vault. It had all happened so fast or at least that is how it seemed. In truth, Miguel could see the small changes in the populace. Unfortunately he didn’t give the situation the attention it deserved. Foolishly, he viewed the growing tensions with the same level of passive concern he gave to the mishaps every advanced society eventually endured. However, small feuds between religious and political groups were quickly overshadowed by the growing desire of almost a quarter of the population; the outside world.
Vault 186 was unique in the fact that digitized status reports were sent directly to the main terminal of the Overseer. Status reports containing all information on every vault created before the war that ended one world and birthed many new worlds above and below ground. Miguel, like his predecessors was at first disgusted by the wealth of knowledge granted to him. While each vault did indeed save its inhabitants from the nuclear fallout of the war, it appeared as if the majority, if not all of the bunkers were designed to house inhumane and horrific social experiments with the inhabitants being the guinea pigs.
Miguel could only assume that the release of this knowledge to each leader of Vault 186 was in fact another social experiment of some kind. While the progenitor and purpose of these experiments eluded the aging leader, he couldn’t help but wonder if the decision to restrict this knowledge to none but the Overseer was in fact a contributing factor to the situation that had erupted into a near catastrophe. Could this rebellion have been averted if the first Overseer fully disclosed this information? Miguel had to shake the thought away. How could it? Would it not have further inflamed the desire for life outside of the vault? Or maybe it would have fostered a more concrete relationship of trust between the populace and its leaders, making the seemingly impossible task set before him a bit more plausible.
“Sir? Sir, we’re awaiting your orders.” A voice Miguel recognized as the commanding officer for security, Mathew Ford, crackled from an intercom built into his terminal desk.
“Standby until I arrive, Captain.” Miguel said after pressing a small red button next to the intercom and leaning forward to better project his voice towards the device. Several technicians and Captain Ford himself had informed the old man that he would still be perfectly heard without his face being less than a few inches from the intercom but Miguel was firmly set in his ways like most people his age.
“The crowds’ getting restless, sir. It won’t be long until they’re tearing down the doors.” Mathew said with his professionalism keeping the building panic in his chest from reaching his voice.
“I’ll be down within the half-hour.” Miguel said with his own practiced professionalism.
Forty minutes later, Captain Mathew Ford of the Vault 186 security police force found himself surrounded by a mob of protesting citizens. Flanked by only four of his men, two to his left and right, armed with black batons and N99 10mm pistols, weapons originally manufactured for use by the various police forces during the pre-war era, Mathew held his left hand out and gestured for his men to keep back. Each officer held their batons at the ready, all of them reluctant to raise the weapons in a threatening manner in the face of an already infuriated group of men and women.
Mathew swallowed hard, feeling the growing tension closing in on him and his men. He tugged at the black t-shirt beneath his utility jumpsuit and for a moment was struck by the almost laughable irony of the situation. In front of him stood a sea of angry protesters all dressed in the same clothing as himself, dark blue leather jumpsuits with stripes of gold running up the zipper from the waist and around the neck just beneath the large collars. Black gauntlets encircled their wrists and forearms and large black boots covered their feet. Mathew himself and his men in addition wore pre-war riot gear –black Kevlar vests, black helmets with large clear visors, and black leather gloves– over their suits.
Much of Mathew’s features were hidden beneath his clothing but the stressed Guard Captain held hope that the crowd could be reasoned with. With a light click, Mathew raised the visor shielding his face and let his sky-blue eyes meet the eyes of his fellow vault dwellers that stood shouting in front of him. The elevated plastic shield revealed a handsome man with a slightly pale complexion a squarish chin and low cheekbones. Several strands from his short black hair were matted to his forehead by sweat born from the heated situation erupting in front of him.
Where was the Overseer? Mathew’s level of frustration grew every time the question echoed inside of his mind. He glanced back at one of the men on his left whose hand had more than once hovered close to the holstered pistol on his hip.
“Keep it together, Connolly.” Mathew said with as much reassurance in his voice as he could muster.
James Connolly, a young twenty-something year old man of African and Irish decent with somewhat large eyes, high cheekbones, and a slanted jawline that ended at a slightly pointed chin, twitched at the sound of Ford’s voice. His eyes met the Captain’s for a second before his gaze shifted back to the crowd.
“Why are they doing this?” James asked with genuine confusion. “Do they really think fucking with the vaults water is going to solve all of their problems?”
“Just keep your head.” Mathew ordered.
“Yeah if there’s going to be an incident we need to make sure they take the first swing.” One of the guards to the right of Ford said.
“There isn’t going to be any incident, Hsu.” Mathew said sternly. “These people are our neighbors, our family. There isn’t going to be any violence.”
“Why don’t you try telling them that?” Dennis Hsu shot back, his small black eyes continuously scanning the crowd for any signs of weapons. Although Dennis was a bit skinnier and shorter than his fellow guards and his face was round with thin eyebrows and puffy cheeks, beneath his uniform his body was a toned masterpiece.
Mathew could tell his men were becoming restless. Too much time had passed and the crowd had realized that no other security guards were coming. The Captain had suspected that was their play all along. Twelve other locations had been accosted by the separatist group; each one hit ten minutes after the other. The security force harbored just under fifty officers so it was obvious that these protests were a coordinated effort. The plan to split Mathew’s forces was obvious but the Guard Captain couldn’t figure out what the protesters’ end game was. The vault door was locked and only the Overseer could open it. Did they plan on storming his office and demanding they be let out? Or worse still, could shutting down the water really be their goal? The thought sickened Mathew. Didn’t they know that everyone was needed in order to keep the vault running? Not just the essential systems but the community itself? Mathew was so lost in his thoughts that he nearly jumped at the sound of another security guard, this one behind the crowd, shouting orders.
“Out of the way.” A redheaded female security guard yelled above the screams of the crowd.
A few of the shouting mob fell silent and while most of the crowd continued protesting, a path was made for the new arrivals. Flanked by two security officers, Miguel made his way through the parting crowd towards the entrance to the water purification lab. The old Overseer received several jeers and profanity ridden remarks from many of the people he passed. As Miguel reached Mathew and the rest of his officers he turned to face the mob, taking in a deep breath before speaking. The old man was never one for speeches but realized that if what he was about to do did not end the rebellion, nothing would. The female officer positioned a black handheld radio near his mouth and depressed the call button so the Overseer’s voice could be heard at every location the separatists were protesting.
“For two hundred years…our community has existed below the broken streets of our lost nation.” Miguel said, letting his empathetic gaze meet the angered glares of his people.
Slowly, the crowds scattered across the vault grew silent as their protested leader spoke.
“Our ancestors, our families were the fortunate few selected by Vault-Tec and the government to be spared the nuclear devastation that rained down from above. Since then we have created a vast nation continuing a tradition of human cooperation and innovation that once gave birth to a world superpower whose reach spanned the globe. We were once a meager group of five hundred individuals confused and frightened. Terrified at the prospect of living beneath hundreds of tons of rock and steel and yet, we persevered. We survived.”
“That time has passed, Suarez!” A male voice echoed from the crowd.
“You can’t keep us locked down here! We want our freedom!” A woman added, eliciting several cheers of agreement.
“In the past…” Miguel continued, letting the jeers bounce off of his resolve. “I attempted to and succeeded in quelling your protests, believing in arrogance that it was my right and responsibility as Overseer to protect you all from yourselves and more importantly, the dangers above ground. I spun tales of vague mystery, inciting fear in your hearts as children and curbing your growing yearning and wonder for the outside world. But now you have all grown into capable and courageous adults who no longer feel the need for the protection of an old man.”
“So now I will no longer presume to tell you what it is you should strive towards with your own lives. I will simply tell you the truth; a truth that has been hidden from you, your parents, and their parents all the way back to the day when the first members of this community set foot inside the vault.”
Miguel produced a silver square shaped device from the right cargo pocket of his jumpsuit and held it up in view of the crowd.
“This holodisk contains all of the information from a data folder stored in the main terminal of my office. On it is detailed information concerning hundreds of other vaults constructed throughout the land. There is…information that all of you will find to be very disturbing…some horrific. From what I could gather, almost all of the vaults were programmed with special protocols, carrying out inhumane social experiments on the inhabitants.” Miguel continued and did not give pause at the several gasps and murmurs from the crowd.
“To my knowledge no one but the previous Overseers have known this information. The password for the folder was given to the first Overseer and programmed by the creator of this vault to delete itself once used for the first time. That password was passed on to me by my predecessor. I know this revelation has most likely only strengthened your desire to leave but before you do…there was information from one vault in particular that I must share with you now because I cannot let you leave without knowing what it is you will face on the surface.”
“Nearly one hundred years ago on the other side of the continent a man exited his vault in search of a replacement water chip. When he reported back to his Overseer all of the recorded information was uploaded to my terminal. Before the war, the United States government created a virus called F.E.V. that mutates any living organism it comes into contact with. Everything from insects to animals were warped into gigantic bloodthirsty monstrosities…including humans. A being known as “The Master” created an army of super mutants; men and women dipped into vat containers filled with the virus. The land has been ravaged and all but a few vaults still send data bursts to my terminal. The only reports of any real civilization have come from what was once known as California and Nevada. Everywhere else, as far as I can tell, is inhabited by these fearsome creatures and large tribal gangs known as raiders who rape and pillage their way through any and all civilized communities.”
Stunned expressions covered everyone surrounding the Overseer, including Mathew and his officers. Miguel made no attempt to hide the shame weighing down on his heart.
“How could you keep this from us?” One woman in the crowd shouted.
“Just because you’re our leader it doesn’t give you the right!” A man growled.
“How can we hope to live in a world like that?” Another woman groaned.
“Don’t listen to him! It’s all just a lie to keep us down here!” Another man warned.
At that last accusation, Miguel, who had lowered his head in shame, looked up in the direction of the voice.
“I can assure you that I am not lying.” The Overseer said with a new found determination. “We are not just a community. We are not just family. We are one of the last, if not the last symbol of what the people of this lost nation were capable of. Not just the good, but the evil as well. The communities inhabiting the other vaults ate themselves, some literally so. But we…we have existed here in relative peace...in harmony for nearly three centuries while the world above has continued to decay. Before our time, when America still existed my ancestors sailed to these lands in search of a better quality of life. For a time, they found it. In every generation there has always been the promise of a better land; a better home. But when the apocalypse wiped out life as our ancestors knew it they did not carry their hopes of a better land down here with them. They brought their ideals and hopes that we, their descendants would know a life of peace. We have found that peace. We have created our own world down here. No other vault has grown as large as we have. No other vault has made as many innovations in technology as we have. No other vault community has prospered as much as we have!”
Miguel’s words began to elicit nods and cheers of approval.
“Historians, philosophers, and scholars have always debated the reasons why kingdoms and governments fall. They blamed marauders. They blamed dictators. They blamed wars. They studied past civilizations trying desperately to discover the exact moment the breakdown happened. Well I say the answer is and has always been the most basic. It was when a government decided that it can make the decisions for the lives of its people that that government doomed itself! It was when the people of a nation facing a crisis realized their governments were more concerned with the wellbeing of its king, or prime minister, or its president than the wellbeing of its citizens that those nations sowed the seeds of their own destruction.”
“My predecessors were mistaken when they chose to follow the directive set forth by the architect of our vault and I…have come to realize that I shared in their mistake. As your leader I have treated you all as if it were your duty to follow my directives. It is not. It is in fact my duty to serve you and ensure that all of your needs and desires are met, even if I disagree with those desires. No…especially if I disagree. It is my duty to accept all points of view because I am not an all knowing deity. I am flesh and blood just like the rest of you. This holodisk will be made available to all who wish to transfer its contents to their Pip Boys as well as any further updates concerning the outside world. It is my duty to guide you, not control you. I will leave the decisions concerning what you wish to do with your lives up to you. That means from this day forth the G.O.A.T. evaluations will only be used as a base reference, not a mandatory work placement program. You all have my humblest of apologies for continuing the sins of my predecessors. I can only hope that you will decide to give our community one last opportunity to thrive, for if too many of you leave...it will be near impossible for those of us who remain to maintain the civilization we have worked so hard to build. But we will persevere because we are citizens of Vault 186 and for us nothing is impossible!”
Miguel handed the holodisk to Mathew and then clasped his hands behind his back while gazing out at the crowd.
The Guard Captain stared in awe at what had just transpired. The thick tension that once felt as if it would choke the life out of him had slowly dissipated and was now replaced with loud cheers of pride and joy. Mathew watched as the Overseer slowly began to make his way back through the crowd the same way he entered; with his body slightly hunched over and his eyes glued to the floor. The symbolic stride of a humble old man and yet Mathew couldn’t help but stare at the vault leader as if he could move mountains with a simple thought.
The revelations the Overseer had just revealed shocked Mathew to his core, as he was sure was the same for every other vault dweller. He had experienced the same wave of emotions as his fellow citizens; shock, curiosity, fear, anger, sadness, and even a bit of excitement. Yet at that moment he also felt one last emotion as his vision centered on the golden 186 on the back of the Overseers standard issue vault jumpsuit, a large measure of respect for the old man. It took a lot of guts for a leader to reveal that he had been withholding such a significant truth from his people for so long and even more guts to do it face to face. Thoughts of scouting the world outside of the vault had crossed Mathew’s mind enough times that he seriously considered joining the separatists if they ever secured the ability to leave. If only to see what was out there. If only to see if the outside world could offer a more enjoyable life for his daughter. However, at that moment Mathew had no intentions of leaving and judging by the loud cheers of admiration and friendly pats on the back and shoulders the Overseer received from the pacified mob, neither did they. Several status reports detailing the ending protests began flooding in from the radio unit attached to Mathew’s utility belt.
“Roger that.” Mathew said into his radio with a smile on his face. “All units stand down.”