Growing up Fast, So Very Fast
Since the dawn of humankind, when our ancestors first discovered the killing power of rock and bone, blood has been spilled in the name of everything, from God, to justice, to simple psychotic rage.
The Romans waged war to gather slaves and wealth. Spain built an empire from its lust for gold and territory. Hitler shaped a battered Germany into an economic superpower. In the 21st century, war was still waged over the resources that could be acquired. Only this time, the spoils of war were also its weapons: Petroleum and Uranium. For these resources, China would invade Alaska, the US would annex Canada, and the European Commonwealth would dissolve into quarreling, bickering nation-states, bent on controlling the last remaining resources on Earth.
Many horrors and crimes had occurred throughout history, but few matched the desperate and violent acts that nations would commit in the name of claiming as much as they could for themselves. Some optimistic souls thought that the wars for these resources would be the turning point for humanity, the crucible that would forge a future of peace. After all, how could things get worse?
They were wrong.
The end of the world occurred pretty much as we had predicted: too many humans, not enough space or resources to go around. The details are trivial and pointless, the reasons, as always, were purely human ones. In the year 2077, after millennia of armed conflict, the destructive nature of man could sustain itself no longer. In a mere two hours, the Earth was nearly wiped clean of life in a great cleansing, an atomic spark struck by human hands that quickly raged out of control. Spears of nuclear power rained from the skies and the world was plunged into an abyss of radioactivity and rage. Continents were swallowed in flames and fell beneath the boiling oceans. Humanity was almost extinguished, their spirits becoming part of the background radiation that blanketed the earth.
But it was not, as some had predicted, the end of the world. Instead, the apocalypse was simply the prologue to another bloody chapter in human history.
For man had succeeded in destroying the world, but war? War never changes.
The capital of the United States of America, Washington D.C., was before the war a shining example of society. But in the earliest hours of the Great War, it was reduced to a hollow, radioactive shell of its former self. The land was saturated by the fallout from countless bombs, poisoning its ground and waters. Monuments from the greatest and most inspiring moments of American history were either lost or forever scarred. The seat of the American government was nearly completely annihilated, and for two centuries the D.C. ruins have sat, bleached by the sun and covered with ash.
For the people of what is now the Capital Wasteland, life is suffering. Raiders, mutants and wild animals pick off those who stray from the safe regions of the few civilizations that have risen from the ashes. Food and clean water are commodities that the people fight and die for every day. A race of monster men, the super mutants, preys on humans relentlessly, capturing and carrying them off to unknown locations. There are few capable of fighting this menace.
The Brotherhood of Steel, led by the sympathetic and noble Elder Owyn Lyons, have fought to protect the people of the Capital Wasteland for over twenty years. These knights and paladins, clad in power armor and wielding technologically advanced weaponry, strike out at the super mutant threat from their seat of power: the Citadel, set within the ruins of the Pentagon.
But their efforts, although noble, have had little success. A portion of their own kind, dissatisfied with the choices of Elder Lyons, split off from the Brotherhood, choosing instead to focus on the Brotherhood's original goals for being in the region: the acquisition of advanced pre-war technology. These Outcasts, as those loyal to Lyons labeled them, have established themselves in Fort Independence. They fiercely search the D.C. ruins for technology, disregarding anything (and anyone) else as a waste of their time.
The super mutants, brutish and of unknown origin and number, have posed a constant threat to all who inhabit the Capital Wasteland. For years, they have haunted the nightmares of those they hunt and have overrun the D.C. ruins. These large, unintelligent hulks and their mutated abominations have waged war unending for control over the Capital Wasteland. They have not succeeded. Yet.
The Capital Wasteland, like so many other places, is home to never-ending conflict. And yet, underneath its lifeless, bloodstained soil, a different story is told. In the early days, thousands had been spared the horrors of the holocaust by taking refuge in enormous underground shelters known as vaults. But when they emerged, they had only the hell of the wastes to greet them. Their inhabitants set out across ruins of the old world to build new societies, establish new villages and form new tribes.
All except for those in Vault 101, tucked away in the center of the Capital Wasteland. For on that fateful day, when fire rained from the sky, the giant steel door of Vault 101 slid closed, and never reopened.
Throughout its steel corridors, the propaganda of its all-controlling Overseer can be seen and heard. "It is here you are born. It is here you will die."
Because in Vault 101, no one ever enters... and no one ever leaves.
Lloyd was born an unremarkable child in the year 2258, on the thirteenth of July, to the parents of James and Catherine Freeman, two talented scientists, doctors and very caring individuals. Though both were well trained in medical matters, unforeseen complications arose from Lloyd's birth, and tragically, not long afterwards, Catherine died of cardiac arrest. James was doomed to raise their only child alone. Having love only for his late wife, he never remarried or sought another partner.
Lloyd was raised by James in the comfort of Vault 101, where he had been born. To his father, Lloyd was nothing but the greatest gift a man could ever ask for. James loved his son, and was proud of even the smallest of his achievements. Walking at one year of age, unlocking his playpen door and even flipping through books, obviously not reading or understanding what a book was, but just copying the behavior of his father. James loved the boy more than anything, and strived give him a good life, despite the adversities they faced living life underground.
James taught everything he could to his beloved son. As he grew, Lloyd learned medicine, math, chemistry and a wide variety of subjects from his father, more than he learned in school, which gave him something of an edge over his peers. As the foremost figure in Lloyd's life, James' traits reflected in his son: honesty, dignity, integrity and a bit of a dry, sarcastic wit.
In childhood, James would always make it a point to read to his son from any of the books he had available. Sometimes they were childish works of fancy, comic books or historic non-fiction. In particular, he loved reading to the child Catherine's favorite passage from the bible, Revelation 21:6, a quote he had framed in his office.
"I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely."
James was the head physician of the vault. The Overseer of Vault 101, the stern Alphonse Almodovar, appointed him this position. As a scientist and doctor both, James quickly became an important figure in 101. Yet, he didn't always see eye-to-eye with the Overseer. James was often free-thinking and idealistic, whereas his counterpart Alphonse was narrow-sighted and strict. Their differing ideals often caused them to erupt into fierce debate, but never did these encounters turn violent. Both thought very little of the other.
The people of the vault knew James, and trusted him. They looked to him as a protector of life, as every doctor is in a way. Each family entrusted him with the health of themselves and their children, but the Overseer sometimes found it a struggling battle to maintain their absolute faith. His strict nature often precluded their opinions, and a number of the policies instituted under his reign were met with open protest. The vault security force, utterly loyal to him, kept people in line, though very rarely was physical force ever actually required.
While the two adults often did not get along on the best of terms, their children seemed destined to live out the opposite of their parent's grudging rivalry. Alphonse only had one child, Amata, a cheery and happy little girl. Amata's mother died of a sickness two years after she was born. Because there weren't too many children of their age in the vault, the two became good friends as they matured. Lloyd and Amata shared a similar experience, growing up without a mother, and this became a staple in their growing friendship.
Amata was a rebel to her father's strict nature. She laughed, she played and she skipped down the steel corridors even as her father called out to her to stop. To make her father frown in frustration was all too easy for young Amata. She was a free spirit in her youth, untamed and pure. As she matured, this manifested in an inquisitive and caring nature displayed by her outspokenness.
Lloyd was a little bit different. Quiet most of the time, yet very well-spoken and polite when he was inclined to speak. His father was a noble man, and this trait reflected very clearly in the boy, as he was always doing what he thought was the best thing to do. Sometimes this pseudo-heroic tendency landed him in trouble, teaching him harsh lessons about ego and bravado. He wasn't selfish or stuck-up, but rather honest and kind.
Lloyd took after his father in more ways than one. As he neared the age of sixteen, he already resembled his father at his age in a number of ways. Tall, with bright green eyes and dark brown hair, he was turning out to be a spitting image of his father when he was younger. His father sported a prominent, closely-cut and well-kept beard and Lloyd knew soon he would be growing facial hair as well. Lloyd was also growing very intelligent like his father. Good with computers, medicine and repairing equipment he was turning out to be a chip off the old block. James was proud of his son, and spent as much time with him as he could, as much as his job would allow. Being the head physician meant he was often swamped with patients.
When Lloyd was ten years old, his birthday party came and went, as do all others, with a few small gifts and good memories. His personal favorite gift, however, was a hidden shooting range his father had built with the help of his assistant, Jonas Palmer. Tucked away in a corner of the reactor level, it sported three crude targets on the ends of metal poles. On that day, James gave the child a BB gun he had repaired, about which Lloyd couldn't have been more ecstatic to try out. Since that day he had grown into quite a crack shot with it, a feat he was very proud of, though boasted to none. If the Overseer ever learned of such a shooting range, he'd have it melted down for scrap.
Lloyd was born before Amata by just a few months. In the vault, all children shared school classes and were encouraged to get to know each other. Their education consisted of a variety of subjects, covering biology, pre-war history, physics, anatomy, mathematics, literature and other studies. While their development was carefully monitored and sometimes guided by the adults, namely their primary teacher Edwin Brotch, they were allowed to follow up on subjects which personally interested them.
And so, when the day came that his son had to take the G.O.A.T., the test that would determine where his son's future job in the vault would be, James was adamant about getting his son to succeed and get a good career to secure the rest of his life in the vault.
Lloyd, in contrast, was unenthused about the G.O.A.T. As his father was checking up on him in his medical office, they spoke. He set his instruments aside and looked at the boy sitting on the patient bench.
"As far as I can tell, you're a perfectly healthy sixteen-year-old boy. So yes, you need to go to class and take your G.O.A.T. exam," James told him, setting aside another medical instrument. He pointed towards the door. "Go on now; you've got a test to take."
Lloyd sighed, "If you say so, dad."
James' voice grew slightly stern. "Hey, it's not my call. Those are the rules. You're sixteen now, so this year you've got to take the G.O.A.T." He caught his son rolling his eyes and James sighed. "Come on, it's not so bad. Everyone has to go through with it. You'll do just fine."
Lloyd looked back up at his father. "Anything I need to know about the test, pop?" he asked.
James folded his arms. "The Generalized Occupational Aptitude Test is something everyone here in the vault takes it when they're sixteen," he said, accentuating 'everyone.' "Helps to figure out what sort of a job you'll have here in Vault 101 when you get a bit older. So, pay attention and try not to fall asleep this time."
Lloyd nodded his promise. He had some trouble staying awake in class occasionally. Usually, it was because they were learning or reviewing things he already knew about, not that that excuse earned him any favors from his teacher or fellow students.
"You know what they say, son: 'We're born in the vault, we die in the vault. Each is tested in their abilities, so that they may work towards the betterment of all vault residents.' Sound familiar?"
"Vaguely," Lloyd responded sarcastically. It was only one of the only things the Overseer chants on the intercom. He paused for a moment, and then quietly spoke up, "Dad, do we have to die in the vault? Can't we ever leave?"
James frowned. "That's not the way it works, and it won't do you any good to go around asking questions like that, especially not around the Overseer or any of his men. He already breathes down my neck enough. He won't let me medically examine his daughter without being present, eliminating any doctor-patient confidentiality. Frustrating, is all."
Lloyd nodded once more and averted his eyes. James got a sympathetic look in his eyes, unfolfed his arms and placed a hand on Lloyd's shoulder.
"I want to tell you something now. It's important, so listen closely..." Lloyd looked up and met his father's gaze. "This place, this... vault. It isn't perfect, I know. But it is your home. You're safe here. Stay inside and you always will be, understand? You need to appreciate all that you have here."
Lloyd could only look at his father.
"Because, what's up there... on the outside... that's not the life I want for you. And it's not what your mother wanted for you, either."
Lloyd asked, "Do you know what it's like up there?"
For a moment, James had a faraway look in his eyes. He looked past Lloyd to see if his door was shut before speaking. He crossed his arms. "No… Not really. But it can't be better than what's down here."
"There's no hope for leaving?"
"That's what the Overseer says, isn't it? He's not about to let anybody out or in so I guess that's how it'll have to be. You're here now, and it's a hell of a lot better than being up there. All your mother and I ever wanted was for you to be safe. And you're safe here."
Lloyd wanted to ask about just how certain his father was about how dangerous it was on the surface. He looked to the left, seeing a specific framed quote on the wall. He heard his father's voice in his head, reading it aloud as he had heard a hundred times in his youth.
"I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely."
"Hey dad... can we talk about, you know... mom?"
That seemed to surprise James. "Your mother?" Lloyd nodded. "She... she was beautiful. But beyond beauty you've seen... there's just only so much those old photographs can show." Lloyd listened as his father grew silent for a moment. "She was passionate... about life, about love. But most of all... most of all she was passionate about you. When she became pregnant, it was the happiest I had ever seen her. Ah... she had great things in mind for you."
Lloyd smiled and nodded, wishing he could have known her. Her absence was always a defining feature of his life, akin to a void he couldn't define but knew was there. He had long ago resigned to knowing that he would never be able to fill it.
James waited another moment before clearing his throat. "So it's time to stop stalling and take the exam. Please, son, please take these achievement tests seriously. The last thing I need is for your mother's ghost to start haunting me because her only son became a, a garbage burner or something."
Lloyd winced slightly, but nodded. "Bye, dad."
"Good luck, son."
Lloyd stood and stretched a little, and took a moment to check his Pip-Boy 3000, the wrist-mounted computer he had received on his tenth birthday. Standard issue in the vaults, the Pip-Boys were a product of RobCo Industries. It could interface with all compatible technology, including computers and robots, all the while maintaining a readout on its user's health and vitals. A number of handy features accompanied it, including a radio and GPS.
On his calendar for the day, Lloyd noted the G.O.A.T.'s entry and sighed for one final time. 'Time to face the test and just get it over with, Lloyd,' he thought to himself. 'Can't be that bad.'
As he left the clinic, he noticed James' assistant Jonas helping a sickened Stanley Armstrong, an important technician in the vault. Lloyd knew Stanley well; it was he who had actually fixed up the Pip-Boy which now resided upon Lloyd's left forearm. "Hope you get better soon, Stan!" Lloyd called out as he left. Stanley nodded and coughed.
As Lloyd approached the classroom, he noticed Amata. Sixteen like himself and looking good, with pretty features and clean, dark hair that she tied behind her head. Her visage always managed to make him smile, since she had been such a positive person in his life. Unfortunately, Lloyd wasn't the only one who thought she looked nice.
Butch DeLoria and his friends, Wally Mack and Paul Hannon Jr., all wearing their signature leather jackets with the logo of their "gang," the Tunnel Snakes, emblazoned on the back. They wore their jackets over their vault jumpsuits. It certainly made them stand out among the civilians inside Vault 101. They had surrounded Amata, despite her protests, and were making lewd comments. One of which being, as Lloyd could hear as he approached, "I could show you a real Tunnel Snake, Amata," a gem from the perverted mind of Butch, the leader of the Tunnel Snakes.
Lloyd felt his anger rising, but kept his cool. He approached. "Hey, Butch," he called out from a few yards away to get his attention.
Butch turned his head, his slick, oily hair glinting in the fluorescent light. He was leaning against a wall with his arms crossed. "Yeah? The hell do you want, wimp?
Briefly making eye contact with Wally, Paul and most importantly Amata, he looked back to Butch. "What's going on here?" Lloyd asked.
"None of your business, kid. Get out of here before you get hurt." Butch cast a look at this two lackeys. They were cracking their knuckles in anticipation. Lloyd didn't back down; he knew how to handle this situation. In the back of his mind, a plan formed. "If you mess with the Tunnel Snakes, you're asking for trouble, and it's not the kind of trouble you want. Got that?" Butch said, still leaning back and acting casual, displaying his usual tough-guy bravura.
Lloyd got close and spoke silently to enhance his point and make Butch listen. "If you don't leave Amata alone, right now, the Overseer is going to come down on your gang. We'll see to it personally." He looked to Amata, who was looking back at him, wide-eyed. She was afraid Butch might attack him for threatening him so blatantly and openly.
But Lloyd knew better. He knew Butch was a coward at heart, relying on physical threats and shying away from any administrative action. His family had a history of trouble with the Overseer's office. Butch's eye quivered slightly as he kept staring Lloyd down.
After a moment, he said softly, "Maybe you're right." He stood up. "C'mon Tunnel Snakes, this little bitch isn't worth our time," he spat out indignantly. They reluctantly agreed and followed him into the classroom. After a moment, it was only Lloyd and Amata in the hallway. She breathed a quick sigh of relief, both at being out of the situation and at the fact that it was resolved without violence. "Thank god that's over..." she muttered.
Lloyd turned to face her. "You alright?" he asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine. They didn't lay a hand on me," Amata told him. Lloyd nodded and smiled. "Listen... Thanks for getting rid of those assholes."
"No problem. I know how to talk my way out of a bad situation." Lloyd said, a hint of arrogance drifting into his tone. Amata cocked an eyebrow.
"Is that bragging I hear?" she asked, a smile gracing her face.
"Not at all, merely... harmless self-recognition of improvised talent," he replied.
Amata chuckled and shook her head. "Thanks again. I don't know why they won't leave me alone. I think they just do it because they're frustrated with the administrative arm of the vault, like pestering me is some way to spit at my father without having the guts to do anything more dangerous. Idiots. Hope Butch ends up as a garbage burner."
Lloyd silently agreed. He nodded his head in the direction of the classroom, and they walked in side-by-side. Mr. Brotch, their teacher, was telling people to sit down. Lloyd took his seat at the head of the class on the right-hand side. Brotch explained a few of the rules of the test as he passed out the papers to each row. He administered the exam by asking each question accompanied by a slideshow demonstrating each of its hypothetical scenarios.
Early on, Lloyd detected certain oddities with the test, to say the least. The questions were strange, all multiple-choice, and none of the answers seemed to conform to what Lloyd would really do in the situation they presented. By the third question, Lloyd had given up on any notion that this test was actually to be taken seriously. He put random marks on all the questions except for the last, which concerned who was "indisputably the most important person in Vault 101: he who shelters us from the harshness of the atomic wasteland, and to whom we owe everything we have, including our lives?" to which every answer was "the Overseer."
Lloyd refused to dignify that ridiculous propaganda with an answer.
One by one, the students turned in their papers, whereupon Mr. Brotch would tell them what they had received as their career. Amata, as to be expected, was placed on the supervisory track within the Vault 101 administration, a position below her father. Lloyd was curious to see what Butch would receive; hairdresser, as it turned out. Butch grabbed the paper from Edwin's desk and crumbled it up, defiantly stating that he was a "barber" and not a hairdresser, before storming out of the room.
When all was done with, and the other students handed in their tests, Lloyd stayed behind. As Amata left the room, she looked back at him, still seated in his desk. She worried briefly, but didn't linger. Only one other student lingered for long, Freddie Gomez, who was overly nervous about his results. Finally, after convincing himself for the fifth time that he had made the right choices, he handed in his test and was relieved at his results.
"Can I help you, Mr. Freeman? Is something wrong?" Mr. Brotch asked as he looked up from his desk and noticed Lloyd, sitting in the darkness, the only illumination in the room, and on Lloyd, originating from the still-running video projector.
Not rising from his seat, Lloyd held up his paper. "This is seriously supposed to be the test that determines my future career? This is the great and feared G.O.A.T.? This was a joke."
Mr. Brotch sighed. "You always did have a thing for speaking your mind, Lloyd."
"I call it a gift."
Brotch paused. "Look, Lloyd, I like your father. I might even like you if I wasn't your teacher." Lloyd cocked an eyebrow at that statement, but said nothing. "I can tell your future is going to be a hell of a lot brighter if you have control over it. And to be honest, I always hated this test too. Never wanted to be a teacher."
That surprised Lloyd. Then again, he had never really gotten to know his teacher that well.
Brotch continued, "So, here's what I'm going to do; just tell me what you want and I'll fill out the form."
For a moment, all was quiet.
"...Seriously?" Lloyd asked, slightly dumfounded.
"Before I change my mind, Lloyd," Brotch said, slightly agitated.
"Alright. I want something where I can work with my father, or in the same field. I do very well with medicine and surgery, and I like talking with the patients. I'm really good with people; reading their emotions, feelings, sometimes thoughts. Empathic is the word. I'd like something that also incorporates computers, and maybe repairing equipment, light or heavy. I'm good with those things, too." Lloyd almost mentioned how much of a crack shot he was with a rifle, but he left that out. He inwardly smiled as he considered his shooting range, which he had been frequenting for the past six years.
Mr. Brotch thought for a moment, before shuffling some papers on his desk and straightening them. "I'll see what I can do, Lloyd. You'll get a career that'll suit your needs, I know it. But maybe you can narrow down your resume a bit. A doctor, surgeon, therapist, scientist, computer mechanic and electrical engineer put together simply doesn't have a name that I know of."
Lloyd cocked a smile, sitting back in his chair and crossing his arms. "Yes it does, and yes, you know of it."
Mr. Brotch lifted his head, looking at the teenager in curiosity.
"Enlighten me, Mr. Freeman."
"You just said it."
Stanley wiped the sweat from his brow. He had just finished tightening a leaking steam pipe and the whole area was humid and wet, with droplets of water forming on the rusty pipes and valves he was expected to maintain. He coughed a little into a rag he then stuffed into his back pocket. He looked down the hall of the lower maintenance shaft he was in when he heard the approach of Lloyd, his temporary worker for the day.
Lloyd, now seventeen, beamed a smile to Stanley and greeted him. Stanley did the same. "Alright Lloyd," he began, "We've got a few things to do on today's checklist. There's been some pressure spikes in the pipes on this level recently. There're some ventilation issues, maybe some radroaches built a nest in there… hard to say. Take this," he said, showing Lloyd a short length of pipe. "I know it's no battleaxe, but if something darts out at you, it might help."
Lloyd smirked. "Battleaxe? Who am I, Grognak the Barbarian?"
Stanley rolled his eyes. "You go a little further down and take my extra tool box. You find anything leaking or shooting steam, try to find the source of the problem and fix it. The Overseer's office has been flooded with complaints recently about some water issues and he's been breathing down my neck about it. Let's see if we can't find out what's wrong, eh?"
Lloyd nodded, taking the toolbox and the pipe. He took a moment to turn the flashlight function on his Pip-Boy on before continuing past Stanley further into the darkened tunnels. The occasional hanging lightbulb was the only source of light besides his Pip-Boy. The tunnels were narrow, covered in piping and usually either moist, rusted over or both.
He heard a crunching noise as he took another step forward. He paused and looked on the bottom of his boot. He had stepped on a vault spider, whose gooey insides were now all over the floor. Lloyd grimaced at the sight before lifting his boot up to rub its sole on a pipe, partially cleansing it of the arachnid's insides.
'Disgusting,' Lloyd thought. 'Hate spiders. Arachnids in general. Actually, arthropods in general, but crustaceans are alright. Then again, I've never even seen a crustacean…'
His train of thought was interrupted by a sudden blast of steam in front of him from a nearby pipe that he almost walked into. A fact he was thankful for, as he didn't want to deal with any burns. He set his toolbox down and immediately went about his work, trying to fix the piping.
Some ten minutes into his work, he managed to stop the steam flow. After a little duct tape and some tightening and the pipe was once more in fashionable working order. Lloyd had just finished mentally patting himself on the back when he heard some noise coming from the hallway he had just come from before pausing to work on the pipe. He was currently at a junction; his hallway merged with another.
Another sound; like a pebble bouncing off metal. He couldn't tell where its echo came from but that was definitely a sign that someone, or something, was walking nearby. "Hello?" he called out. "Stanley, that you?" He reached over and picked up the pipe.
Lloyd stood up and turned the corner only to meet a fist flying into his face. He fell back onto the hard, wet concrete floor, blood beginning to flow from his nose. He dropped the pipe as he cupped his face. He cracked his eyes open and looked up to see Butch come around the corner, followed by second bananas, Wally and Paul. Butch sneered and said, "There you are. Been waitin' a long time for this…"
'Shit,' Lloyd thought. He reached for the pipe but couldn't grab it before all three teenagers were upon him, punching and kicking. The wind knocked out of him, Lloyd focused as hard as he could on grabbing the pipe. Gasping and wincing in pain from every blow, he used all of his energy to bang the pipe against one of the pipes running along the wall, over and over, creating a loud ringing. Butch stood and kicked the pipe out of his hands, before pushing Paul and Wally aside.
He turned Lloyd onto his back and straddled him, smiling at his position of power over his helpless victim. Placing one hand on Lloyd's collarbone, he curled the other back into a fist and began pummeling away at Lloyd's rapidly bruising face. Butch laughed as he did so, as did Wally and Paul, who mocked Lloyd from the sides.
Lloyd, barely aware of anything else, knew only that his plan had worked when Stanley suddenly appeared, lured by the sounds of the pipe. Brandishing his wrench, he smacked Butch across the face with it, sending the teen to the ground. Paul and Wally were too surprised to do much of anything, but when Stanley held up the wrench as if to throw it at them, they ran. Butch looked up at him, and Stanley snarled, "Get out of my maintenance shafts, you little punk!"
Butch rubbed his sore cheek and scrambled up to his feet. He backed off, barking out, "You got lucky, old man!" He vanished around a corner.
Stanley took a moment to breathe. He hadn't expected that to happen today; the excitement was making his heart rate a little too erratic. He leaned down and picked up Lloyd, propping him up against the wall. The teen said nothing as Stanley reached into his toolbox and pulled out its one emergency stimpak, which he injected into the lad's shoulder. Its healing and pain-numbing qualities would do Lloyd some comfort.
"I think… that's enough work for today, eh?" Stanley said as Lloyd blinked a few times. "You alright to walk?"
"I think so, yeah…" Lloyd said, struggling to get up. Stanley put Lloyd's arm around his shoulders and supported him.
"Hah… Tunnel Snake punks…" Stanley said. "Real tough when it's three-on-one…"
Lloyd only mumbled in response.
"Come on, let's get you back to your father. He'll fix you up alright. Andy and I will handle the rest of the work down here."
Lloyd dumbly nodded as they reached a flight of stairs that would lead them back into the upper levels of the vault.
"These experiments are a waste of time!" Alphonse, the Overseer, exclaimed.
James, standing opposite the Overseer and across a table which contained numerous petri dishes and test tubes, met his stare and replied, "Don't be a damn fool! We experiment to prepare. We prepare to survive."
"Watch your tongue around me, James," Alphonse warned. Behind him stood security chief Paul Hannon Sr. and Officer Herman Gomez. Jonas stood behind James. "We already have a water purifier, and backup. We don't need to spend vault resources on useless experimentation so long as those are maintained."
James shook his head. "What happens if they fail? If the water chip breaks or is intentionally damaged? These experiments are important. Removing rads from water, and from patients, is important to the health of the vault as a whole."
"Regardless, I will not approve your request to use one of our main water tanks as a test bed for your experiments. Should anything go wrong, I would be held accountable and the people of the vault would be at risk."
James let out a frustrated sigh. "We've been over this a damned hundred times. There are multiple main water concentration tanks in the vault. Each of those has a number of backup contingencies, among them extra water tanks. We want to use one of the inactive backup tanks that isn't even in proper circulation right now."
"And what happens, should your experiment go wrong and contaminate more of the water supply than you need?" The Overseer retorted. "I will not willingly sign off on something that might cause a water crisis!"
James slammed his hands on the table, disturbing the liquids in the dishes. "We'll seal it off from the system! Isolate it beforehand! Run contingency checks and ensure that proper safety protocols are in place! Damnit, Alphonse, I'm not a fool. There's a procedure to these things!"
"You will refer to me by my proper title, Dr. Freeman," Alphonse nearly spat. "And the answer is still the same. Your proposal has been considered and denied."
"This could help people! Help people in the vault!" James nearly cried.
"The people are fine the way they are," the Overseer said. "There aren't any foreseeable issues with the water mainframe right now. And it's going to stay that way. Understood?"
James took a moment to straighten himself and steady his breathing. "So be it, Alphonse."
Security Chief Hannon placed his hand on his baton. "You best stop insulting the Overseer, Dr. Freeman!"
Alphonse held up his hand. "Stop. You can't teach an old stubborn dog new tricks." He looked back to James. "But you can cage it if it misbehaves further."
Understanding his meaning, James turned and went back into his office. Jonas quickly followed him. The Overseer shook his head and turned to leave, followed by officers Hannon and Gomez. Inside his office, James sat and sighed heavily. "Damn that Overseer. If only such a closed mind wasn't in charge of the vault. These experiments are important."
"I know, doc. I know," Jonas said. "We'll just have to keep trying to perfect the results with the smaller samples."
"I've been doing that for a long time," James said. "We need larger supplies of water in order to test the reactions on a large scale. But we won't have access to that technology so long as the Overseer is watching our every move."
Jonas shrugged. "Well, there's nothing else we can really do, is there?"
James looked up at him, deep in thought. Jonas wasn't sure to make of his silence, but James craned his neck to look out of his office to ensure that nobody else was around. He leaned forward. "Not in Vault 101, in here, we can't."
"Thanks for helping me again, Stanley," Lloyd said. He was once more down in the lower tunnels, helping the older technician repair the pipes. He had healed quite nicely since Butch's sudden ambush.
"Don't mention it, kiddo. From now on though, we'll work in teams down here. Plus, it'll stop you from getting lost."
"Stanley, you yourself fixed my Pip-Boy up. You know it has maps of these tunnels."
"I know, I know," Stanley replied, chuckling a little then pausing to cough.
"You alright?" Lloyd asked, concerned.
"I'm fine. Hand me that wrench, will you?" he said, pointing to the wrench atop the toolkit just outside his reach. Lloyd did so. "So, how're things you with you and Amata?"
Lloyd was stunned by the sudden question. Stanley went about his work casually, signifying to Lloyd that he was just making conversation. "They're, uh, good. Why?"
"Well, buzz around the vault is that you two have been spending a lot of time together lately."
Lloyd turned around and went about wrapping duct tape around a pipe. "Well, she's taken up some medical studies as a personal interest. It's something I'm good with, so I've been helping her. Quizzing her."
"Yeah, on what kinda stuff?"
"…Usual things, you know. Biology, medicine, anatomy…"
Stanley suddenly slapped Lloyd on the shoulder, startling the teen. "Anatomy, eh? Haha, Lloyd you hound-dog."
Lloyd quickly turned around and held up a hand. "It's not like that, Stanley. Our relationship isn't physical."
"But it is a relationship, yeah?"
Lloyd paused. "Why are you suddenly so interested, anyway?"
"Kid, I'm a father of three and grandfather of more. I think I might know one or two things about relationships. Thought you might enjoy a little advice, is all."
"She's the Overseer's daughter," Lloyd deadpanned. "With how controlling he is, he'll probably choose her mate based on what he thinks is compatibility."
"So? That means you shouldn't try?" Stanley replied. "Lemme tell you a story about my wife's father. He didn't like me. Right up until his death, he was convinced our marriage was a mistake and refused to speak with me."
"So how did you get him to like you?" Lloyd asked.
"I tried a few things; made myself look presentable to him, tried to conform to his standards of manhood, blah, blah, blah. Then, I found the secret."
"I stopped trying. Made everything a helluva lot easier," he chuckled.
Lloyd was confused. "I'm a bit lost as to your point, Stanley. Care to clarify?"
Stanley stopped working on the pipe and looked at Lloyd. "Just because her father didn't like me didn't stop me from loving my wife and having three children. I married her because I loved her and felt that it was right, and to hell with whomever else thought not, father-in-law included. I wasn't about to let his disapproval get in my way."
"Yeah, but I doubt he had as much power as the Overseer," Lloyd said.
"More than you might think. When I was young, he was the Chief of Security at the time. That's a position with quite a bit of influence, even with the Overseer. Security chiefs are trusted, hand-picked—even advisors, usually. It wasn't easy, Lloyd. But once I had won over my beloved wife, well, that was that. Nothing her father could do about it."
Lloyd was silent. He looked on as Stanley was lost in memories of his late wife. Stanley was wise, and Lloyd trusted his word. As for how he felt about Amata…
He looked at Stanley and said, "Thanks again, Stan."
"Don't mention it."
Amata stood rather nervously, shifting her weight from foot to foot. From across his large desk, her father stared at her, seemingly peeling away invisible layers with his eyes until he was looking at her very essence, searching it for something. This scrutiny was making her uncomfortable; her father wasn't usually this… intense.
"Amata," he finally spoke for the first time since summoning her into his office, "I've been receiving a few concerning reports. Now, you and I have established your two hours of daily free time, that you might enlighten yourself with whatever activity that strikes your fancy… Yet, I wonder if, perhaps, your choice of how to spend this time should be brought into question."
"I don't think it should. I've done nothing wrong," she replied.
Alphonse wrung his hands together. "Amata, you have to realize that, as someone on the supervisory track, there are a number of duties and responsibilities one in a position such as yours is expected to recognize, uphold and respect. One of those is that you breed trust in the people of the vault, trust in you. I believe your free time might, perhaps, be better suited to event planning, or youth group organization. You'd be surprised at how much these acts reflect in the hearts of the civilians of the vault."
Amata looked away. "…Maybe sometime in the future. I'm focusing on studying other subjects right now."
Once more, Alphonse was silent before speaking in a slightly-accusing tone, "With Lloyd Freeman?"
Amata considered her response. "What of it?" she said, slightly defiantly. Alphonse picked up on it.
"Amata, as your father, but more importantly as your Overseer, I want you to limit your time with Lloyd. You're at an age where it's important that you craft as bright a future for yourself as possible. Lloyd is… a distraction that, quite frankly, is beneath someone of your caliber."
"I think he's smarter than me," Amata retorted. "I feel lucky to have him help tutor me."
Alphonse's knuckles were starting to whiten from him squeezing his hands together. Exasperated, he once more fixed his gaze with hers. "Look at me, Amata."
She did so, somewhat put off by the seriousness with which he now considered her.
"Listen to me very carefully, Amata. Lloyd is a product of his father's teachings, not Mr. Brotch's. James is difficult to keep in his place. The vault is a machine, Amata. Everyone does their part. We can't have pieces of this machine think that they can function differently, or choose where they want to function. They simply have to function, and as the Overseer, it's my job to make sure that the machine works. It's the hardest job here in the vault, and I take no personal pleasure from the lengths I have to go to ensure control of the machine. Not just for the moment we live in, but for the future as well. Someday, Amata, I'll be gone. Then you'll be the Overseer. And I will not let someone like James Freeman influence this vault by having his son have influence over you."
Amata stopped her father's speech and stomped her foot on the ground, shaking her head. "We're people! Not parts in a machine, dad! I can't… I just can't believe that that's how you see the vault! You're cooped up here in your office every day, administering orders for your security drones to carry out. James Freeman is a wonderful man, and the people of the vault like him. That's why you hate him, dad. Because you can't stand the idea that someone else in the vault can hold sway over the people. That's the only reason! And I'm sickened by the fact that you hate Lloyd only because he's James' son!"
Alphonse shot up. "Now see here! I am your father, and you'll not speak to me as such! You don't know to what lengths I've gone to keep this vault safe! Someday, you'll appreciate all I've done for this vault, and for you!"
Amata was visibly upset now, having rarely ever fought with her father. "I'm not a part in a machine! You can't just expect me to fall in line with your grooming and that I'll just jump right into your job when you can't do it anymore! I want to be more than your replacement, dad, I want to help people, something you've forgotten how to do!"
Alphonse roared, "Don't you dare say that I've forgotten how to help people! I've made decisions tougher than you can know so that the people of this vault can sleep easy! That they'll have clean food and water, and order in their lives! If they're unhappy because I've given them everything they need, then the problem is on them! And you, young lady, you're confined to your quarters until you learn your lesson and appreciate what I do for you!"
Amata's mind spun with a hundred different retorts, but ultimately, she decided it pointless. Stomping her foot in anger, she resigned trying to talk sense into her father and stormed out of the room, heading towards her own quarters. Alphonse straightened as she left, running a hand through his hair. A twinge of guilt struck him, but he swallowed it down. It was only a matter of time, in his eyes, before this kind of exchange was going to come out. He convinced himself it was all part of the process.
Alphonse shook his head and tried to focus his thoughts on his next objective. He knew that if he didn't take some kind of action soon, James might ruin more than he realized. He wasn't about to let that happen.
'I never should've let him in…'
Amata waited two hours after her door was locked to roll out of bed. Though her room was sound-proofed, she still took measures to be quiet as she slipped into her jumpsuit. Heading over to her nightstand, she picked up two very important tools; a bobby pin and a screwdriver. Making her way over to her bedroom door, she deftly went about her task of unlocking it.
Locating the keyhole on the large, sliding mechanism, she inserted both tools into it. Having practiced at this more than once in the past, she knew well the tricks involved with lock picking. Turning both of them until she found the proper angle, she applied pressure until she heard an all-too familiar "click" and the door slid open.
Keeping low and moving fast, she navigated the corridors of the vault. Checking each hall to ensure there weren't any security patrols or people milling about even at this late hour, she managed to stealthily make her way to her destination. Pausing to ensure nobody was within earshot, she opened the door, cringing at the sound it made as its two halves parted.
She moved in quickly, closing the door behind her. A sudden piercing light in the darkness startled her—the light function of a Pip-Boy.
"Little late, isn't it?" Lloyd said as he sat up from bed and rubbed his eyes.
"Sorry to disappoint," she coyly replied. "I can always leave if you like. Though, you should know that it took a bit of effort to get here."
"By all means, stay for a while." Lloyd turned and kicked his feet off the bed. Wearing only a white t-shirt and boxer shorts, he stepped onto the cold, metal floor barefoot. Amata stood up and edged nearer. "I was worried when you didn't show up tonight. I stopped by the administration to look for you, but they wouldn't let me around."
"My father's trying to tighten his grip," she explained. "Things are going to get difficult for us."
"Does he know about, well, us? Our… well, does he?" he asked, uncertain of how to delicately phrase his question.
"No, not really. He suspects. Fears, more like it."
"He's afraid of us being together?" Lloyd asked as he resumed sitting on the bed. He patted the side next to him, an invitation to sit which she accepted.
"He's afraid of the effect your father's ideals would have on me, through you."
"That's… odd," he said, trying to find the logic in her father's thinking.
"You're telling me. He's going to try to keep me locked up for a while. I figure that if I play along, he'll go easier on me. As much as I hate to admit, the harder I fight him, the worse he'll become. He's just such a control freak, I can't stand it!" she said, shaking her head. Her dark bangs fell in front of her face, which Lloyd swiftly tucked behind her ear with his hand. He guided her face to face his by gently cupping her chin.
"Hang in there, Amata. Are we going to let him stop us?"
"He'll only succeed in slowing us down," she said, idly tracing a finger on his leg. "I won't be able to see you as much for, well, I don't know how long."
"Better make use of our time then," Lloyd said before moving closer, softly encouraging her onto the bed, "You need to be back by morning, after all." He dove in kissing her eagerly, which she responded to with equal passion, pleased with the enthusiasm. Wrapping her arms around his back, she dug her fingers into his hair as she pulled his body closer to herself.
Lloyd slid his hand up to the zipper on the front of her jumpsuit and was about to pull it down, before she stopped kissing him and slapped his hand away. "Not that fast there, cowboy," she said. "The suit stays on."
Lloyd, a bit too modest to make a snappy retort, simply nodded and resumed kissing her.
Good things can't last forever.
Lloyd turned over in his bed, burying his face in his pillow. Somewhere, deep within the layers of his subconscious, something was nagging at him to awaken; something stirred by a faraway noise. But Lloyd was enjoying a very comfortable rest, and an even more comfortable dream when suddenly he was shaken almost violently awake. Blinking, his eyes slowly adjusted to the ultraviolet light of his room to behold Amata standing over him.
"Wake up! Come on, wake up!" she was saying. In his addled state, he didn't notice the worried look on her face, or the alarms blaring in the background, for that matter. "Come on, you've got to wake up!"
He smiled meekly. "Hey... how weird, I was just dreaming about you..."
She slapped him. Hard. Now, he was definitely awake. He saw her estranged facial expression, and finally heard the alarms.
"Now's not the time to be a smart-mouth! This is serious!" she said, growing irritated. "My father's men are looking for you! They've already killed Jonas, and you've got to get out of here!"
"...What?" Lloyd gasped. "Jonas is... dead? What the hell's going on!?" he shouted, springing out of bed. He was wearing only a white tee and boxer shorts.
"It's your dad, he's left the vault!"
Those words hit him like a bullet and stopped him like a wall. "What do you mean? What's going on?" Lloyd frantically asked, grabbing her by the shoulders.
"My father thinks Jonas helped your dad escape, so he had his men..." she paused, and her face quivered. "My god, Lloyd, they killed him... they just beat him and beat him and wouldn't stop..." It seemed as though the reality of it just hit her. She was growing weak, and her eyes were tearing up.
"Oh my god… Are you okay?" Lloyd asked, stepping closer. Amata put her hand up, sniffling a little.
"Yeah, don't worry about me. I'm just… sorry you had to find out like this. I know Jonas was your friend."
Lloyd nodded and averted his gaze. Thousands of thoughts flashed through his head. 'Jonas... dead... and dad's left the vault... why? Why?' he desperately tried to rack his brain for any hint, any indication, anything that would lead him to an answer. He had nothing, flat-out nothing at all that could help him understand. No indication; was this a planned secret? Kept from him? But why?
Amata spoke. "But we've got to go now! My father's men will be here any minute!"
Lloyd shook his head, seemingly not hearing her. "No, no, my father can't have left. The door is sealed shut!"
"Not anymore, apparently..." she said. "But... are you honestly telling me you really didn't know your father was leaving? He didn't tell you?"
Lloyd grimly shook his head. "No." He paused a moment, thinking heavily. "I had no idea he was planning to leave."
"Oh... I'm sorry, I had no idea... I-I'm sure he had his reasons... maybe Jonas was supposed to explain everything to you?"
"I have no idea, Amata..." he spoke, his face showing distinct sincerity.
Amata shook her head and grew determined. "But it doesn't matter now, he's dead. I can help you escape, I have my own plan!"
"You mean escape the vault? How?" he asked.
"Listen: there's a secret tunnel leading directly from my father's office to the exit. You'll have to hack his computer to open it." She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small bunch of bobby-pins. "Use these to get past his door. It's how I always get in."
Lloyd nodded and took the pins. "Sounds like a good plan. Let's get out of here."
"Oh, and also… I stole my father's pistol." Amata reached behind herself and pulled a 10mm handgun out from behind her back. "I really hope you don't have to use this... but just in case... you know?"
"Yeah... yeah, I know." He reached over and took the pistol from her hands. It felt light and easy to use. It was the first, truly lethal weapon he ever held; the first weapon made with the express purpose of killing. He never considered his old BB gun to be any form of dangerous. It gave him a strange sense of power, one he didn't know if he liked. Was it power? Or protection? Or both?
"Thanks Amata. I promise I'll only use it if I have to. A last resort. I promise."
She nodded in understanding. "Okay. I'll try to meet you at the exit. Watch out for security and... good luck." She leaned over and planted a quick kiss on his cheek. "Sorry for the slap..." she said as she turned to leave. Lloyd turned to watch her go. As she left the room, she paused and spoke. "If you can open up the exit, do it. Don't wait for me if I don't show up. Oh, and... try to get dressed." And with a quick, forced smile, she was gone.
Lloyd didn't take long. He put on his jumpsuit and grabbed the only other weapon he could think of: a baseball bat he had gotten as a recent birthday gift. He spent a short moment to search for what else he could use. He didn't think he'd be coming back here. He picked up the baseball that had accompanied the bat and slid it into his pocket. He walked over to one corner of his room, which had a medical cabinet. Inside were a few minor supplies, some stimpaks and some shots of Med-X, along with some surgical equipment. He took the first aid kit with all of the items in it and buckled it to his belt.
He thought briefly on taking his old BB gun and any pellets he had. But with the pistol, and the given circumstances, he left it behind, deeming it rather worthless.
Baseball bat in hand, he left his room only to be immediately shouted at from one end of the hall. He turned and saw Officer Kendall there, pointing at him and ordering to freeze. He wore a black armored chest plate, as well as gloves and boots. His helmet had a plastic facemask, but even behind it Lloyd could see his eyes narrowed in anger.
Before either could act, Lloyd heard a clicking noise and a group of about four radroaches swarmed up to Kendall's feet. The football-sized insects normally nested in the ventilation ducts and were a terrible pest, though a manageable one. "Christ, more roaches!" he shouted as he struggled against the large insects that were leaping up and biting his legs. He futilely swung at them with his police baton, only occasionally hitting them.
Lloyd immediately took up his bat, charged forward and started swinging at the roaches. They cracked and crunched as he attacked them, with sickly yellow fluid spraying out of one as he brought the bat down upon its hide.
Not long after, all the roaches were dead.
"Are you alright, Officer Kendall?" Lloyd asked. As soon as he had asked it, he had to step back to narrowly avoid being hit in the face with the officer's baton.
"Whoa! Officer Kendall, relax!" Lloyd protested, holding up a hand in defense.
"You think you're better than the rest of us, don't you, you little son of a bitch!" he cried as he swung again. Lloyd blocked it with the bat. "You think that just because you and your father are so goddamn smart and that we all need you; that you can just up and leave whenever you feel like it? Huh?" he shouted, swinging twice as he ranted.
"What? No! Never! I don't have any idea-"
"Shut up you little fucker!" Kendall took another swing.
Lloyd saw an opening and swung with his bat. It connected solidly to the side of Kendall's head. He groaned loudly and stepped back, holding the side of his head where the blunt object had impacted. Lloyd backed up a bit, putting some distance between himself and the officer.
"Now please just listen to me!" Lloyd said, holding up his hands. "I'm sorry! I don't want to fight!"
Kendall looked up at him and gritted his teeth. "I'll kill you!" He charged at Lloyd, raising the baton high up.
Lloyd reacted fast and swung twice, each solidly connecting with the sides of the officer's head. He made no noise as he fell to the ground, very much unconscious and bleeding, enough so to start a pool where his head lay.
Lloyd could only stare, wide-eyed, at what he had done. He tried to form words at that moment, to ask the man he had injured if he was alright, but couldn't. He knew enough about injuries to know that the man was out cold.
As his senses returned to him and he found himself able to breath again. He heard the alarms. His father was gone. Radroaches were swarming, for some reason, and the guards were after his blood. He had just attacked a man with a baseball bat, had seriously injured him and was mortified at all of it.
But he had to leave. With one last look at the unconscious man, he ran down the hallways of the vault. The alarms blazed and rang in his ears, but as he rounded a corner, he heard a cry for help from a familiar voice. Butch suddenly exited a room near Lloyd and noticed him. "Hey!" he cried. "You gotta help me! My mom's trapped in there with the radroaches!"
Lloyd paused. The situation struck him as ironic, but he wasn't about to be a dick about it. Butch looked honestly desperate. He tightened his grip on his bat and said, "Come on, show me where she is."
"No, I... I can't go back in there. It's dark, and... and there's radroaches, and... you know..." Butch said, rubbing the back of his neck and stuttering slightly.
'Good god man, it's your mother!' Lloyd thought. "I'll get her out of... wherever she is. Show me already!" he ordered.
"Oh my god, thank you! I didn't know what to do! You're the best, man!" he said. "Follow me!"
Butch's mother was trapped in their room. Three radroaches had crawled inside from an open air duct and were attacking her. She was crying out for help, and Lloyd was going to give just that kind of help. He ran in and smashed the three oversized bugs, one after another, saving her. The last one leapt for Lloyd, but he intercepted it midair with a wicked crack from his bat. Butch stood in the doorway, cheering him on as he finished the last one off. "We did it!" he cried.
'Are you kidding me…?' Lloyd thought, wiping the yellow fluid from the bat on the bed.
"My mom's gonna be okay! You're the best friend I've ever had, man!"
"Butchy..." his mother cooed.
"I'm here mom, and you're alive!" he turned back to Lloyd. "Listen man, I know it isn't much, but I want you to have my Tunnel Snakes jacket. Go ahead, take it!" he insisted, sliding it off and handing it over.
'Well... it does have more pockets, I guess...' he thought. 'And Butch really wants me to have it.'
He took the jacket and slid it on, then left while Butch tended to his mother.
'This thing's actually pretty comfortable...' he thought. The irony of him wearing the jacket continued to humor him, until the reality of the situation he was in came down on him once more.
Lloyd continued on. He heard some radroaches scurrying inside a room, and he stopped to see. It was the lounge, the one he had his tenth birthday party in. It was dark. There was an elderly woman inside, lying on the floor, dead. She was known to most as Grandma Taylor, though Lloyd was unsure of whose grandmother she actually was. Three radroaches were chomping on her body.
The sight sickened him profusely. He deprived the roaches of their insignificant lives, and then moved on.
He was getting tired of seeing dead bodies, and tired of these damn radroaches. It seemed like there was one or a small group around every corner. Where did they all come from? And why swarm now? Did the alarms wake them up?
He rounded a few more corners, and headed up a flight of stairs, towards the clinic and his father's office. Since it was on the way, he thought he'd stop by and see if he could find anything useful. He froze when he saw another officer. 'Shit...'
But then he breathed a sigh of relief as he saw that it was Officer Gomez, whom he had always been friendly with. He knew he could talk Gomez down if he came after him. But first, he saw that the officer was dealing with a few roaches. As he moved to help him, the roaches were suddenly engulfed in flames. That was the work of the robot Andy, utilizing one of his three mechanical arms (specifically, the one that sported a flamethrower). He approached Gomez, who recognized him immediately.
"Whew, you're lucky it was me who found you. The others won't be so forgiving." Gomez said. Lloyd thought about Kendall, and then shuddered at the sudden thought of a group of roaches stumbling upon his body. Gomez continued, "Look, I don't know what you're up to and I don't wanna know. Just, just clear outta here and I'll pretend I never saw you."
This surprised Lloyd. "Thanks, officer Gomez. I always knew I could count on you."
"It's a real damn shame that it's come to this. I can't believe that they did to Jonas... Officer Mack was just out of control... But you're a good kid. You didn't do anything to deserve this. Go, find your dad, if you can."
"Officer Mack killed Jonas? Steve Mack? Wally's brother?" Lloyd asked.
Gomez could only nod his head. "A young kid, just got into the force. He's wild. Arrogant. Never did like the look of him. He's got a murdering fire in his eyes, I thought. Guess I was right."
Lloyd hoped he wouldn't have to come across Steve on his way out. With another thanks, Lloyd moved past him and entered the medical area. Stanley was there, patching up Andy. Andy was a Type-I Mister Handy robot, a hoverbot designed to assist with mundane tasks. Something of a butler, usually.
"Hello good sir!" Andy spoke, his programmed politeness shining through as always. "I believe I heard something about the good Dr. James going up for a spot of fresh air. Should be back any moment now."
"Shut up, Andy..." Stanley muttered as he set down a wrench. He looked at Lloyd. "Hey kid, listen. I just want you to know that you and your dad always did right by us. You're aces in my book. I'm not going to give you any trouble, but the Overseer gave a general order to report you. I think they're gonna kill you, Lloyd."
"Yeah… I know."
"Be careful, Lloyd. Especially if you follow your pop… you know, up there," Stanley said as he pointed up to the ceiling.
Lloyd nodded before moving into his father's office, closing the door behind him. He needed to find something, anything, that could provide insight into his father's motivation for causing all of this by leaving the vault. Hell, he always told Lloyd not to leave the vault! This was completely the opposite of everything his father had ever told him! Everything!
He spent a few minutes tearing the office apart, looking for evidence that, for all he knew, didn't exist. There was nothing. Scattered papers, an overturned desk and broken beakers were all that remained. Absolutely nothing at all that gave him any kind of clue. Frustrated, angry and looking to vent his rage, he looked at the wall and saw that framed quote he had heard so many times throughout his childhood.
"I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely."
He heard his father's voice saying those words, as he had heard a thousand times before, and he found within himself a boiling rage.
"Goddamn you... why did you leave? Why?" he spoke to no one in the room, but to the essence of his father, the quality of him that remained here. Many of Lloyd's memories were of his father working in the clinic. "You always said to stay below... where it's safe... secure... This isn't what my mother wanted you to do... You always said... You son of a bitch!"
He swung the bat in a fit of rage, smashing it into the quote. The glass shattered and the frame fell to the ground.
Revealing a hole in the wall.
Lloyd blinked a few times. 'What the hell...' he thought.
Inside was a bag and a small audio disk. He picked up the bag, and opened it. It was full of bottle caps.
"What? Bottle caps... did he collect bottle caps or something?" Lloyd said. He didn't know why, but he felt he should keep them and slid the bag into a jacket pocket, zipping it up tight so that they wouldn't make too much noise. He picked up the holodisk, which was labeled in marker, "Home Sweet Home," and slid it into his Pip-Boy. He needed to know if this had anything to do with his father's leaving.
He inserted it and hit the play button on the glowing screen. James' voice emanated from the Pip-Boy as the recording began playing. The alarms in the distance seemed to grow dimmer as Lloyd heard his father speak.
"Well, here we are. Nestled all safe and snug inside Vault 101. It's so cold down here. Colder still with Catherine gone... oh, Catherine... I so wish you were here with me. How the hell am I supposed to do this by myself? Live down in this hole. Take care of our child... but this is our life now, so I guess I'd better get used to it. The Overseer who runs the place is an overbearing bully, but I've dealt with worse."
The recording ended there, and Lloyd could only wonder at what he had just heard. Something itched at the back of his brain, some kind of little voice that told him that something in his father's voice was implying something, some hidden. He didn't know what, but it sounded like...
'No… Couldn't be.'
It sounded like James wasn't always down in the vault.
'But that would be impossible... Wouldn't it?'
He shook his head. Either way, hearing the voice of his father had calmed him. He heard the blazing alarms, and knew he had to leave. Leave the vault... the very prospect of it still shook him.
'Time to leave.'
Stepping past a few toasty radroach corpses, courtesy of Andy, he entered the atrium, a large room with two floors that acted as a hallway hub. The Overseer's office overlooked the main area of the atrium. Almost immediately, he saw two people he knew, Tom and Mary Holden. Tom was speaking.
"Don't you see? This is our chance! We're getting out of here, just like the doctor!"
Before Lloyd could make his presence known, Tom ran towards one end of the atrium, shouting out his name and to, "let him through." He was met with gunfire; bullets rained from the end of the hallway and blasted right into him, each hitting their mark. He was dead in seconds. Mary screamed and ran to him, and she too was gunned down.
Lloyd could only stand and watch as two people, in the prime of their lives, were brutally murdered before his eyes.
The two security officers who had done it came out of the hallway and saw Lloyd.
"There he is! Take him down!" one called out. They aimed.
Lloyd could not honestly know what propelled him to take out his pistol and fire. He fired multiple times at each officer, and didn't stop until they had both fallen over and moved no more. His brain barely registered that he had just killed two officers, keepers of peace. Murderers.
Did this make Lloyd a murderer? To kill those who had killed innocents themselves? Lloyd knew that they were ordered to, most likely to put down any rebels that might rise in the wake of his father. Does that make it right? It couldn't.
Lloyd stood still, so very still. The alarms and flashing lights around him didn't affect him. He was too busy thinking about how he had just shot and killed two men. Then, he noticed he had taken a hit himself; more of a scrape. They had shot at him, at least once. The realization that they were going to kill him hit him at that moment. Did self-defense justify what he had done? He decided the pain that he was suddenly aware of was more important at that second than calling his morality into question.
Absent mindedly, with a practiced hand, he took out a stimpak and injected it just above the scrape, which was just on the outside of his left thigh. He tended the injury quickly and quietly, disinfecting it before wrapping it in gauze. The pain was minimal compared to the whirlwind of emotions that was tearing him apart inside.
All he could do was cover up the wound and keep moving. He had to escape this place; it was his only purpose now. To escape this godforsaken place.
As he moved up a flight of stairs, he encountered more roaches. Now wielding the pistol, he spent one shot each. They were blasted apart by the bullets. He heard a loud knocking, and looked to his left. The tapping was done by a man on the other side of a window. He was pounding on it and shouting and was visibly angry. He was Allen Mack, father of Wally, Steve and Suzie Mack. Lloyd knew him to be a most easily angered individual, and particularly troubled since the death of his wife.
"You!" he shouted, his voice muffled by the glass but still audible. "This is your fault! You and your stupid father! He had to leave and screw things up for everybody! Guards! Guards, over here! You know what, fuck it! You just wait, I'm gonna go find my gun!" The man turned around and passed a crying woman, Suzie most likely.
Lloyd was determined not to have to kill anyone he didn't have to. As he continued down a hallway into a maintenance area, where a large computer mainframe that handled much of the vault's vital electronic system was situated, more radroaches tried to attack him. He killed them all and reloaded when he ran out of bullets; this was his last clip of ammunition.
There was a dead engineer in front of a large computer database. The work of radroaches? He didn't stop to investigate. 'Too many goddamn dead people...' he thought. 'I need to get the fuck out of here...'
"For the Overseer!" he heard someone cry. A security guard jumped out from behind a mainframe and came at him with a baton.
Security Chief Hannon, Paul's father, the one in Butch's gang. Lloyd aimed his gun and told Hannon to stop. Hannon smiled behind his plastic mask when he saw the gun. He held up his baton. Lloyd was shaking; he really didn't want to have to shoot at the security chief.
"You don't got the guts kid. No, now you're mine!" He charged forward.
Lloyd closed his eyes. One pull of the trigger later, and Paul's father was dead. Slowly, Lloyd opened his eyes and looked at the body, seeing the mask shattered and a pool of blood forming from the wound in Chief Hannon's face.
"Goddamnit!" Lloyd cried out as he shook. "Stop making me fucking kill you! Stop it already! Just... fucking... stop it!" he shouted at the dead body. "Stop making me shoot you! I don't want to fucking shoot you people!" He let out a loud cry, tears welling up in his eyes. Until this day, the thought of killing someone, seriously killing someone, had never occurred to him. He never thought he would need to.
That makes four men he had killed today, including Kendall. He was radroach food, and he was sure of it now, unless someone had found him and helped him.
Lloyd was losing it. He had to get out. Get out and escape. He stumbled into another hall, leaving Hannon's corpse behind, struggling to keep going, but he was weakened by the emotional turmoil that was wracking his brain. He had to escape... 'Wait, what's that noise?' Lloyd heard crying. And he knew the source.
He ran up to a window, peering inside. Amata was inside, sitting in a chair, crying. An officer was standing over her, and next to him was her father, the Overseer. He could hear them, as the door not far away was open.
The Overseer, Alphonse, was talking. "Be reasonable Amata. Officer Mack may enjoy this, but I don't. Just tell us where your friend is so we can talk to him."
'Steve Mack?' Lloyd thought. 'The one Gomez said murdered Jonas…'
Amata spoke between sobs. "He's my friend and... and I just wanted to help him. I was worried about him. What does he have to do with all of this anyway? He didn't do anything! I swear!"
"That's why you need to tell me where he is. So I can talk with him, nothing more."
Amata grew silent.
"One more time, Officer Mack."
Mack raised his baton. "I think you need to learn some... respect!" he said, smacking her in the face on the last word. She cried out for him to stop, but he didn't, smacking her again.
That set Lloyd off. He ran into the room and fired up at the ceiling to get their attention, his bullet piercing the light above and causing a brief shower of sparks. All three turned to look at him in surprise.
"Amata, go! Now!" He shouted. Amata, thankfully, immediately moved and leapt out of the chair, running past Lloyd. Mack moved to intercept her, but Lloyd aimed at his feet and fired again, causing him to stop. Amata had gotten away and ducked into a room across the hallway.
Lloyd looked at Mack. His eyes were wide, tear-filled and angry. "I've killed four of your men already," he said through gritted teeth, trying to sound strong. "Don't move."
The Overseer stepped forward. Lloyd focused his gun on him, but he didn't seem troubled by it.
"I hope you're here to turn yourself in, young man. You're already in enough trouble as it is. Don't make things worse for yourself. Or Amata."
That struck a nerve in Lloyd. The Overseer was trying to exploit his weaknesses. He wouldn't let it work.
Steadying his breath, he threatened, "If you ever lay a hand on Amata again, you better believe I'll make you regret it you son of a bitch."
The Overseer crossed his arms. "I place the good of the vault above all other things, even my own paternal feelings. We must not allow sentiment to cloud our judgment!" Lloyd thought the Overseer was telling that to himself as much as he was to Lloyd. "But... I admit, I admire your protective nature. Very well. I give you my word as the Overseer, and as her father, that Amata will not suffer further because of your actions."
Lloyd blinked, clearing some remaining liquid from his eyes. "Beg your pardon if I don't believe you, on account of that little show with your pet officer here." Mack growled and stepped forward, and Lloyd sighted his gun back on Mack's head. Lloyd muttered, "Keep your dog on a shorter leash, Overseer. I've been a little trigger-happy of late. Chief Hannon just learned that in the other room." He could hardly believe the words coming out of his mouth. His entire body felt tense; like it was going to snap in half any minute.
The Overseer's eyes narrowed. "Mack, stand down." Mack gritted his teeth and stood straight, baton at his side. Alphonse looked back at Lloyd. "Now then, if you truly care about Amata, you'll see how dangerous your father's actions were. Hand over your weapons, and turn yourself in. Put an end to this dangerous situation! Too many lives have been lost, thanks to the radroaches and... certain individuals." The Overseer paused for a moment before adding what seemed to be an afterthought. "There's no need to join your father as a traitor to the vault."
Lloyd let out a very small chuckle and swallowed, before saying, "I think it's a little too late for that, Alphonse." The Overseer's eyebrow tweaked slightly.
"I've had enough of you and your traitorous father not calling me by my official title. You will refer to me as the Overseer, protector and savior of all those in Vault 101!" he demanded.
Lloyd snapped, "Is that what you said to Jonas before you had your lackeys kill him? My father's no traitor. But you're a murder and a no-good thug, no greater than a lowly bully, worthy only of my, and everyone else's contempt." To heighten his point, he spit on the ground, in front of the Overseer. Lloyd wasn't sure where all the words coming out of his mouth were really coming from. He could hardly believe he was saying these kinds of things to the Overseer; it was like the things he had always wanted to say were bubbling to the surface, escaping through his lips.
The Overseer was obviously infuriated. "Let's just let history be the judge of that, shall we? If you had actually paid attention to Mr. Brotch, instead of sleeping and claiming a superior intelligence on the subject as the reason, you would have learnt that history is invariably written by the victor."
"I guess I'm just a bad student, then." Lloyd replied.
The Overseer ignored him. "I intend to be the victor. You won't survive the night! Mack!"
Mack howled like an animal and ran at Lloyd, swinging his baton. But Lloyd, tense as he was, was ready. Lloyd dodged the attack and fired once. Only once. And Mack was dead, a bullet hole in the side of his head. Steve's body slumped over and Lloyd found himself weak in the knees again.
Alphonse approached suddenly. Immediately, he aimed at the Overseer, who raised his hands. Lloyd approached and held the gun to his neck.
"I need your terminal password," he breathed.
"Oh? Is that all?" The Overseer said in condescending tone.
Lloyd wasn't budging. After a moment of silence, the Overseer spoke.
Lloyd lowered the gun and turned to leave. As he did, he cast one, final look back at the Overseer.
"You won't be seeing me again, Alphonse. I promise you that."
He stepped outside and closed the door behind him. He shot the panel, sealing the door shot. The Overseer watched him do this from the window in silence.
Lloyd entered the room that led to the Overseer's office. In the center of it was Jonas, broken, bloody and dead. Lloyd didn't say anything, or cry. He was running on some kind of autopilot at this point, but he still felt remorse. He never wanted this to happen. As grim an action as it was, he decided to see if Jonas had anything on his person that could benefit him at all and riffled through his pockets.
He found a stimpak and another audio disk. He slid this one into his Pip-Boy as he had done before, and hit play. His father's voice played. Near the end, Jonas' voice could be heard.
"Hold on Jonas, I need to record this first. I... I don't really know how to tell you this. I hope you'll understand, but I know you might be angry. I thought about it for a long time, but in the end I decided it was best for you not to know. So many things could have gone wrong and there's really no telling how the Overseer will react when he finds out. It's best if he can blame everything on me. Obviously you already know that I'm gone. It was something I needed to do. You're an adult now. You're ready to be on your own. Maybe someday things will change and we can see each other again. I can't tell you why I left or where I'm going. I don't want you to follow me. God knows life in the vault isn't perfect, but at least you'll be safe. Just knowing that will be enough to keep me going."
"Don't mean to rush you, Doc, but I'd feel better if we got this over with."
"Okay. Go ahead. Goodbye. I love you, son."
Lloyd grew silent.
Lloyd turned to see Amata, leaning on the doorway and looking down at him. He saw her face, bruised and slightly puffy from her crying. She was still sniffling a little.
"Thank you... for your help," she spoke. "I told you my father wasn't himself... If you hadn't shown up, I don't know what might have happened."
Lloyd looked down at the floor, at Jonas.
"I've killed four people with the gun you gave me. I didn't even check the first two to see who they were."
They were both silent.
"They shot at me. Attacked me. Killed Jonas. Hurt you," he said, growing quiet.
"You did what you needed to do..." she spoke.
"I'm trying to believe that. I'm really, desperately trying to justify the murders. The murders... of the murderers. The first two... I saw them shoot Tom and Mary Holden to death. They tried to kill me... shot me in the leg... I killed them." He held up the pistol and looked at it. "Nine years of target practice... this is the end result." He ran a hand through his hair and let out a pained gasp as he tried to calm himself.
"You're not a murderer," she said, walking over and kneeling by him. "I know you aren't..." she laid a hand on his shoulder.
"I... I just don't know what's right down here anymore..." Tears slid down his face. He looked at her. "I can't stay. Too much has happened. I have to leave. The surface is the only place I can go." His voice was dispassionate, distant.
Amata hugged him, burying her face in his neck. He didn't put his arms around her, but he did close his eyes. For a short while, they remained like that. Then she let go and handed him a key.
"I found a spare in my father's room," she explained. "It'll open the door."
Lloyd nodded and took the key. He stood up, offering his hand. She took it and stood with him. "Let's get the hell out of here," Lloyd said. She nodded in agreement.
They unlocked the door and moved into the Overseer's office. It was dominated by the large, circular desk in the center of it, and the large computer terminal behind it. Lloyd moved to the terminal and put the password in when he was prompted for it.
"How'd you know the password? What is it?" She asked.
"I... persuaded your father to give me the code. It's your name."
She paused. "He loves me. He has a weird, frustrating way of showing it, but he cares about me."
Lloyd turned back to the console. "Yeah… There're a lot of files on here... I'd kinda like to read them and find out anything I can about the surface, or... anything that might help, really."
"I don't mind," she said quietly.
Lloyd connected a wire from the console to his Pip-Boy. He began a file download. A short while later, he was done. As he searched, he found the subroutine to open the emergency escape tunnel and activated it.
In response, the Overseer's desk raised into the air, supported by metal pistons. The floor beneath it moved, revealing a stone staircase leading downwards. Amata was shocked by this; she knew of the escape tunnel but never knew what it had looked like. Silently, they proceeded forward. This part of the complex was dimly lit, and the walls were rusty. Some radroaches frequented the dark area. They were dealt with, the baseball bat making short work of them. They moved through dark corridors, eventually finding a panel on the wall. It led to the main door chamber.
A massive, steel cog served as the entrance to the vault. A large mechanism in front of it, once activated, would lock into the cog and roll it aside, opening the way to the surface. It was closed now; probably sealed after James had left.
"Wow... this is it..." Amata said.
Lloyd moved to a control console. "Yeah. Here we go."
He flipped on a few switches into the active position, and pressed a few buttons. Whatever he did, it worked. Alarms sounded, and the unlocking mechanism was brought to life. It moved forward, imbedding itself in the cog. It locked in, and rolled it aside. A great screeching noise was heard when the cog was slowly moved. Beyond was a dark cavern. It was the first time Lloyd had ever seen rough, real stone.
He found himself repeating Amata's words. "This is it..."
They heard a banging sound from a door behind them. Then, a muffled voice behind it. "He's opening the gate! We need more guards down here right now! Find them! Find the Overseer!"
Lloyd looked to Amata.
"We actually did it... opened the door... my god, I almost didn't believe it was possible..." she said, looking into the cavern beyond. A dull mist and a strange smell hit their nostrils unlike any they had ever smelt before.
"I couldn't have done it without your help," he said. Their gazes met.
"No... You didn't need me. If anyone can survive out there, it's you." She placed her hand on his shoulder. "I... I wish you good luck."
He breathed a few times before speaking. "Come with me," he said.
She looked at him. "I... I don't know if I can... It's certainly tempting. But I feel like my place is here. The vault needs me more than... you do. I want the chance to talk some sense into my father."
Lloyd looked into the cavern, the dark place that signified his future.
"Amata... Today I killed people. I'm not a murderer, not a killer. I... almost lost myself in here today..." he looked at her. "I don't want to become the very thing I've spent all my life trying to avoid. I... I need you to help me out there. Please... I can't do this alone."
Amata looked away. "I don't want to be selfish... I feel like this place needs me... There's a lot of innocent people here who could use my help."
"I don't know what life is like on the outside. Maybe it'll be easy, maybe not. My best senses tell me that it's not. Amata..." he closed his eyes. "There's nobody in the world I would trust more than you to come with me out there. Please... help me find my father. The vault will settle down in our wake... I'm sure of it."
"I would hope so... but... I just don't know..."
Lloyd said nothing, but offered her his hand. There it was: a choice that would change both of their lives forever. She looked into his eyes, then to his hand, and back to his eyes. She could see everything that had happened to him today reflected in those deep, emerald pools. Yesterday, she had been most concerned with getting her room's computer fixed. Now, she was faced with the highest of ultimatums. Both of them realized that this was a choice that could never, ever be reversed, and that both results had consequences.
His hand was still open, waiting to see if she would accept it. His breathing was heavy and his eyes still watered. He silently pleaded.
After another moment's silence, she took it.
The door behind them burst open suddenly, and two guards rushed out. One was shooting. Amata let go and ducked behind Lloyd as he raised the pistol.
"Don't make me use this!" he shouted. "You've already been made well aware of my handiwork with it. We're leaving the vault. If you want to live, you'll let us leave."
All was silent. Lloyd stood straight, holding his firearm in one hand. He was still as a statue, save for his arm, which shook slightly.
Amata recognized them. "Officers Wolfe and Park... please just let us go..." Amata said.
They stood still, holding their weapons. The standoff could've turned violent at the drop of a hat.
"I don't care what the Overseer says..." Wolfe said. "I'm not going out there to follow you, and I sure as hell ain't no murderer, like the ones you shot kid. I saw what happened to Jonas. Just... just get the hell outta here. This whole thing makes me sick. He's got us chasing you instead of containing the radroaches, helping the people. Go, just, go."
Lloyd and Amata breathed a collective sigh of relief and turned to leave.
Park stepped forward. "Hey!" he called out. The two turned around, not knowing what to expect. He took off his belt and threw it to their feet. "Ammo," he said. "You'll need it more than me."
Wolfe did the same, only he tossed in a police baton. The two looked up at the officers, who gave small nods. Lloyd and Amata picked up the belts and turned to leave.
"I'm glad we didn't have to kill them..." she said.
Lloyd nodded, a grim look on his face. He looked back at her. "I don't want you to go... but I won't blame you if you want to turn back now. They'll be shutting the door behind us. I can't say if it'll ever open again."
Amata shook her head. "Don't convince me this is a bad idea now, Lloyd. Please. Let's just get out of here."
As they stepped into the cave, they saw a depressing sight: skeletons, sprawled out in front of the door. They had been there a long time, a very long time. They were holding signs in their decrepit hands. They said things like "HELP US" and "LET US IN MOTHERFUCKERS" and "WE'RE DYING ASSHOLES" in faded marker.
"My god... they died out here... starved to death..." Amata said.
"Or irradiated..." Lloyd added.
They looked up the tunnel and saw a wooden door, with light streaming through the few cracks.
Lloyd commented, "No turning back now."
Amata's hand found Lloyd's and gripped it tightly.
The giant cog slid closed behind them with a great and tremendous noise. Then, as the last waves of sound finished rumbling off of the stone walls, there was nothing left but silence and the sound of their breathing.
They walked, hand in hand, out the door, and were greeted with blinding light, a light more powerful than any fluorescent light in the vault. The light of the sun. Their eyes slowly adjusted.
Amata's grip grew tighter.
"Dear god..." Lloyd spoke, his voice just above a whisper.
They had always heard of the wasteland. Of what the people of the vault thought would be left behind from the Great War, but never could they have imagined the sheer scope of the destruction.
The wasteland was just that: a hellish waste of sand, dirt and rock. Destroyed buildings, massive structures that once stood complete were now nothing more than great wrecks of concrete and metal and scattered debris. Far off in the distance, they could see two structures, one rising tall and large, a spire of broken stone, and the other a rounded building not far away from it. Both stood out above the destroyed city which they knew to be Washington, D.C.
Never, in all of Lloyd's dreams, had this place looked so horrible. Desolate, empty... apocalyptic in every sense of the word.
He looked at Amata, and saw the fear in her eyes. He knew that both of them shared that fear, and the regret from leaving the vault. Despite today's events, it had been their home for their lives until this point. But now, they had taken their first few steps into the Capital Wasteland... and their first few steps into history.