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Accidental Passenger

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“Y’know, after the ceremony, I was thinking we could go to the park. Weather’s really nice today.” Nate’s voice was warm beside Rose. Her free hand rested on the edge of Shaun’s crib as she peered down at him wistfully. She hadn’t heard Nate enter the room. She turned to meet him after feeling his hand drift across the small of her back. She straightened up and let his arms gather around her waist. His hair was tousled with a small amount of styling gel, his beard neatly trimmed.

“And do what, exactly?” she grinned and raised a playful brow at him. He gave a chuckle, the dimple on his right cheek showing. Rose took a sip from her coffee mug.

“Go for a picnic, of course,” he answered innocently.

“Mmhm,” Rose hummed. “Is that all you had in mind?” she traced a finger on the collar of his white t-shirt.

“Yes,” he took her hand delicately and gave each of its knuckles a brief kiss. “For the park, anyway.” His eyes were soft with just a touch of mischief.

“I think that sounds perfect,” she pressed her lips to his to give him a chaste kiss. Nate smiled warmly and pulled her in close, and she rested her head on his chest. She breathed him in, the smell of clean laundry, a trace of cologne, and a hint of coffee. Sighing in satisfaction, she turned her head to look over at Shaun, who was now cooing quietly in response to his mobile. Nate’s hand massaged her back lightly. Rose looked up to stare out the window at the trees. They’d started changing colors from pale green to rich hues of red and orange.

“Sir! Mum! You should come and see this!” Codsworth called in a worried voice. Nate let go of Rose and they exchanged a concerned glance before heading out of the room.

“Codsworth, what’s wrong?” Nate called back but was met with silence. When they entered the living room, Codsworth was turning up the volume on the television set. The black and white image of the newscaster was the same as it had been earlier, but this time the man was different, more austere for some reason. His movements were rigid.

“Followed by, yes,” the man paused, pressing his ear piece closer to his ear. “Followed by flashes, blinding flashes.” The newscaster glanced up at the camera briefly. Rose lifted a hand to cover her mouth. “Sounds of explosions,” the man continued grimly. “We’re, uh, tryin’ to get confirmation,” the man trailed off as he looked around the room. Rose felt herself moving closer to the tiny screen.

“What did he say?” Nate asked, and they exchanged a tense glance.

“We seem to have lost contact with all of our stations,” the newscaster continued.

“Oh, no…” Nate’s voice was low. The newscaster perked up, more agitated.

“We do - we do have coming in, that’s um, confirmed reports, I repeat, confirmed reports of nuclear detonations in New York and Pennsylvania. My God…” the newscaster trailed off and brought his hands to his forehead. The screen went blank with static, and the broadcast was replaced with a standby message.

“Oh my god,” Nate breathed in horror. Both of them were startled by the sound of Rose’s coffee mug shattering on the ground; she hadn’t even realized it had fallen out of her hand. An extreme fear erupted in the pit of Rose’s stomach.

“We need to get to the vault, now!” she shouted. Nate nodded and ran to retrieve Shaun from his crib. Rose sprinted to the bedroom and tore Nate’s old military coat from the closet along with a duffel bag the two of them had packed months before in preparation for something like this. Nate had been right, god, he had been right that they would need it one day. She wished he’d been wrong. She pulled on the coat and slung the duffel bag over her shoulder with quick, panicked movements. Suddenly she heard sirens wailing and the sound of vertibirds overhead.

“I’ve got Shaun, let’s go!” Nate stopped in the bedroom doorway to gather her. He cradled their son closely and the two of them ran out into the street.

“Oh, dear…” Codsworth muttered. “Please be safe, mum!”

Their neighbors were gathering in the street already, some hefting large suitcases, everyone panicking, like this was their perfect little anthill and it had just been trampled on. Nate led Rose down the sidewalk and a vertibird passed overhead. One of its passengers had a megaphone and was giving instructions about evacuation. Rose couldn’t focus on anything except for running. They passed several of their neighbors, some with children, all crying or screaming in desperation. Her heart ached with despair when Shaun began to cry out.

“Hold on, little guy, just hold on!” Nate’s voice was full of panic.

“What if everyone can’t get in?” Rose called ahead to him, her eyes flicking to their neighbors again, some of them holding each other in defeat, others packing up their cars. There was a military barricade at the end of the street where a man was motioning for people to continue down the trail that led across a bridge and up a hill to the vault. Just before the bridge there was a couple fighting over a spilled suitcase. The woman was shouting that they should just leave but the husband was frantically trying to stuff the contents back into it. Rose tried not to look at them, tears starting in her eyes. God, there was no way everyone was going to make it.

Finally, they reached the gate to the vault. A frantic crowd stood gathered before the gate, beneath a brightly-colored Vault-tec billboard. Rose looked on in horror as a man in military fatigues was turning people away. The crowd grew more and more upset.

“We have children!” a woman screamed.

“What do you mean? This is ridiculous! I AM Vault-tec, let me in!” a familiar voice shouted.

“Get back! If you’re not on the list, you don’t get in!” The soldier argued. Rose saw that he was turning away the very Vault-tec agent who had enrolled her family in the program. She started to speak up but another soldier - this one in power armor - behind the gate started spinning the barrel of his minigun. Everyone in the crowd shrieked but they calmed down.

“Whoa! Okay!” the agent put his hands up and turned to run away. “I’m reporting this!”

Everything in Rose was screaming that she had to get her family to the vault, they couldn’t stay here, they didn’t have much longer! She snatched the back of Nate’s shirt and shoved him forward, both of them pushing their way through the crowd.

“Let us in! We’re on the list! We’re on the list!” She yelled. She and Nate approached the soldier. “We need to get in!”

“Name?” the soldier asked in a gruff voice, competing with the sound of Shaun wailing.

“Halloran. Rose, Nate, and Shaun.” she answered quickly. The soldier looked down at his clipboard and made three checkmarks.

“Infant, adult male, adult female. Okay, go ahead.” the soldier moved out of their way and gestured for them to go.

“Thank you!” Nate nodded at the soldier and started forward.

“Wait! Please!” A woman cried, and Rose felt someone grab her arm, hard. Rose turned back to see a woman digging her nails into her forearm, holding her back. “Please, just take my children with you!”

Rose tried to pull away, but the woman’s grip was fierce. Rose looked into the panicked blue eyes of the woman, and then into the miserable faces of her children. The crowd was rushing like a wave again. Rose started to speak but the soldier lifted his gun into the air and a shot rang out. Startled, the woman let go and ducked, grabbing hold of her two kids.

“Good luck, sir.” the soldier said to Nate as he helped Rose start back up the hill. Rose turned back to the woman who was now weeping in protest.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” Rose half-sobbed as Nate pulled her ahead. A man in an armored  jumpsuit met them and guided them towards the vault.

“You two, follow me!” he yelled.

“What’s gonna happen to all those people outside the gate?” Nate asked in a frustrated voice.

“We’re doing everything we can, now keep moving!” the man answered.

Finally, they reached the top of the hill and the vault entrance was in sight. It was a large, flat, circular platform that jutted straight up from the ground and was far bigger than Rose had expected. She noticed several families already waiting in the center of the platform. Her pace quickened. The man was giving them instructions but she didn’t hear them. Another siren started going off, which Rose suspected to be the one for the descent countdown of the platform. She and Nate came to a stop on the platform and he shifted Shaun to one arm before he pulled her close. He was shaking and she was sure she was as well. She looked up at him, his eyes softening when he met her gaze.

“Almost there! Is Shaun okay?” she asked him, her lips trembling.

“He’s fine,” Nate sighed. “We’re gonna be okay,” he assured her. “I love you.” Nate’s gaze burned into hers and she nodded several times before letting out a staggered breath.

Rose parted her lips to reply, but then a brilliant light coupled with an enormous boom went off in the distance behind Nate. Rose cried as Nate pulled her in, the pair of them turning to watch a sinister orange mushroom cloud billow up into the atmosphere. The platform shifted beneath their feet, slowly beginning to lower.

“Hold on,” Nate told her, squeezing her tighter.

“Can’t this thing go any faster?” one of the other people screeched as they started sinking further into the ground. Rose’s heart dropped at the sight of waves of all manner of smoke, dust, and debris careening towards them from the explosion. She and Nate crouched down to avoid the worst of it passing overhead just as they slipped low enough into the vault’s elevation shaft. Rose looked up to see two panels reaching towards each other to seal off the vault entrance and enclose them in darkness. Rose watched the last of the light disappear between the closing gap, and everything grew quiet, except for the rumbling of the earth around them and the mechanical descent of the platform.