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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.

Chapter Text

Rose let out a shaky breath, her hand maintaining its grip on her husband’s shirt. She tried to find his face in the dark. She began to console her son, whose cries were echoing through the chamber, along with the sound of the large gears and belts of the lift.

“Nate,” she breathed.

“I’m here, baby. I’m not going anywhere,” he promised quietly.

“Oh my god, Nate. All those people…”

“I know. There was nothing we could do,” his voice was strained.

“We should’ve tried to help them, we could’ve…” Rose trailed off, her voice jittery. Nate squeezed her shoulder. Shaun cried weakly and Rose began to console him once more.

“Rose, they would’ve killed us. They would’ve killed everyone.”

“Okay,” she said finally. She wanted to argue with him but it was pointless. This was happening. The bombs had really gone off, and those people had been left to their own devices, and no amount of discussion could change that. Rose felt like she was suffocating.

 

The platform started to slow down, and light began to peek over the rim of one side. Rose squinted, letting her eyes adjust as she turned to face it. The platform stuttered and then stopped; the entryway was separated from the industrial elevator shaft by blue metal grating that stretched upwards and across each side. The grated metal doors slid open to reveal a landing occupied by a crew of people silhouetted against the bright lights. Through the gate and behind the Vault employees was a metal stairwell leading up and further back into the structure.

“Everyone please, step off the elevator, and proceed up the stairs in an orderly fashion!” a man’s voice commanded from the lobby, causing the rest of the people on the platform to start murmuring nervously. Rose could see now that some of the people were wearing lab coats, and the others were clad in blue and yellow jumpsuits. The Vault-tec advertisements had not exaggerated Vault suits’ almost obnoxious appearance: skin-tight, with the vault number splayed across the shoulders. The metal grate that separated the platform from the lobby began to lift upwards.

“No need to worry, folks! We’ll get everyone situated in your new home: Vault 111. A better future underground.” A second man was approaching the platform now that it had opened up. Rose was halfway horrified by the way he delivered that line. How long had he practiced saying it? He sounded like a commercial. Rose took a tentative step forward, behind some of the others. She realized now who some of them were: Mr. and Mrs. Jameson, Alice and Robert from just next door, and Jane and Delia from across the street. Among the others, these were the neighbors she and Nate knew best. Rose wanted to speak to them but she couldn’t find her voice.

“So, we just… follow you?” One of the people in the group asked nervously as he made his way off the platform.

“That’s right, up the stairs,” one of the employees gestured towards the staircase. Rose started following her group without thinking. She didn’t know what to think. This was going to be their new home until further notice. And she couldn’t even begin to imagine what that meant. She breathed in and the air was musty.

“I can’t believe it,” their neighbor Robert started. “If we’d left a minute later… we’d all be -”

“No, don’t get caught up thinking about that,” the security guard told Robert as he passed. “You’re safe now. Everyone just head up these stairs, and through the door there. We’ll take care of everything.”

Rose started up the stairs behind a few of the others, turning several times to make sure Nate was still behind her.

“Hey, it’s gonna be okay,” he nodded to her.

“Okay,” she bit her lip. At the top of the stairs was a large opening in the shape of a gear. The path narrowed to a bridge clearly made for single-file travel that stretched through the opening and across a large space. She dropped her hands to the walkway’s railing as she continued further in. Once inside, she noticed that there were large motors and pipelines on either wall, all either humming or turning. There were more people in lab coats waiting at the end of the suspended metal walkway, past a couple of sensors that branched off from the railing at the end of the bridge. Vault-tec employees were moving in every direction, each of them with a different job. The rectangular sensor panels buzzed loudly whenever someone passed by them. Rose turned to face Nate again when he passed by one and Shaun began to cry again. Nate started rocking Shaun gently in his arms to soothe him. Rose felt tears flush in her eyes as she smiled at the two of them.

“We made it. This is gonna be our new home. We’re so lucky,” she said, reaching up to run her thumb across Nate’s cheek.

“Next,” a man said from behind her and she turned back to face him. “Just head over there and get your family’s vault suits.” Rose nodded to him. She approached the dark-skinned woman who was handing out the suits.

“You’ll need these before you can go any further,” she told Rose, smiling. Rose nodded to the woman but was put off by her tone. She seemed excited, almost. The woman glanced at the three of them before reaching into the box on the table to her left. She rifled through the box for a moment, then from it, she pulled a pair of the blue and yellow suits.

“What about our baby?” Rose asked meekly.

“Well, Vault Tec didn’t engineer suits for children younger than 3 years of age, so I’m afraid I can only offer suits for the two of you for now.” The woman held the pristine packages out to Rose.

“Oh, okay, thank you.” Rose exchanged a glance with Nate as she took the suits from the woman.

“Now, you’ll want to follow one of the doctors down the hall. They will escort you to the locker rooms, and then you’ll be seen for a brief physical examination,” The woman gestured down the hall to Rose’s left. Rose nodded and led the way down the hall, Nate following closely behind with Shaun in tow. He had calmed down now, only making noises every few minutes.

Rose listened to the frantic murmuring of the people around her as they made their way down the hall. Conversations of what to do next, people and families that would be lost, entire cities razed to the ground, bloodshed. She clenched her teeth and tried not to think about it. A doctor emerged from the sliding door at the end of the hall and made his way towards them.

“Ah, I see we have another family joining us,” the doctor said, bringing his clipboard up to his chest. “Can you give me your last name?”

“Halloran,” Rose and Nate spoke simultaneously.

“Thank you,” the doctor checked off something on his paperwork. “And what a nice surprise, you've got an infant!” He smiled as he made some notes on his clipboard.

“Surprise?” Rose arched a brow. “I thought all three of us were on the list, that's how we got in.”

“Well, yes, of course, but when you and your husband’s vault applications were approved, we were only informed that you were expecting. I'm happy to see that the pregnancy went well. He seems very healthy,” the doctor grinned and pushed his glasses up to the bridge of his nose. Rose and Nate exchanged a glance.

“Thank you, Doctor, erm,” Rose paused.

“Prendergast,” he said, finishing up his notes. “Now, if you’ll follow me, I’ll take you all to the locker rooms where you’ll store your belongings while we give you your physical examinations and vaccinations.”

“Vaccinations?” Nate asked.

“Yes, sir. It’s merely a precaution for living inside the Vault, and really more a part of the decontamination process. We’ve scientifically engineered our vaccines to help our residents remain free of radiation and disease during your stay. If any of those things are present, they will be expunged from your system through the use of a two-step process. The first step is the injection, and the second, well, it’s really quite a scientific miracle,” the doctor spoke emphatically as he walked the three of them through the door and down another hall.

“Really? What is it?” Nate asked.

“We call them decontamination pods. You’ll just have to see for yourselves.”

 

The doctor led them through a number of metal chambers and sliding doorways, and the further inside they traveled, the more antsy Rose felt. Eventually they reached a sliding door labeled ‘MED BAY’ in thick lettering. The doctor waved them into the doorway and Rose entered cautiously. It was a small room, more of an entryway, with a waiting area and a clerk’s desk across from the large upholstered benches. To her surprise, Rose noticed that the desk was unoccupied. Probably the staff was needed elsewhere. To the left of the desk was a set of double swinging doors with rectangular windows. Rose leaned an arm on one of the doors and it swung open with a slight squeak. Rose thought it strange considering how new the facilities were. She held the door open for Nate and Doctor Prendergast. He nodded to her in thanks. Through the door was another hallway, resembling that of a typical hospital ward, but on a more condensed scale. There were more of the vault’s staff and new residents here and there.

“You’ll want the first door on the left. We’re going to check in your belongings, and then I’ll take you to get your exams done.” Doctor Prendergast walked ahead of them and up to the first door on the left. To the left of a locked sliding door with bars across its window was a small terminal. The doctor punched the keys rapidly, and Rose started to look at the screen but it was shielded by squares of plastic on either side. Nate elbowed her gently and he looked at her accusingly. She shrugged and looked away. Shaun was snoring ever so quietly, head resting on his father’s shoulder.

Inside the room were several rows of lockers, and a couple more terminal stations. Rose looked all around and tried to ignore how stale the room smelled. She could see that some of the lockers had already been assigned, as some of them had contents visible through the small grates across the top. These lockers also bore the surnames of the family on small, white labels. The doctor led Rose and Nate to one of the terminals, logged in, and instructed Rose to input their names, along with a mandatory list of weapons they may be carrying. The bags would be inspected by the staff later, so honesty was to be the best policy in this case. Rose reluctantly typed into the terminal:

 

  1. One (1) 10mm handgun, 100 rounds
  2. Two (2) switchblades

 

Once she was done with her list, she exchanged a glance with Nate and he nodded. She was pretty sure that was all they’d brought as far as weapons were concerned.

The doctor took over at the terminal again and after a moment, Rose heard its fans kick up on high and the buzzing of a small motor. Out from the side of the terminal came two small sheets of paper: a white label with the name HALLORAN printed on it, and a strip that read ROW 4, LOCKER 7 on one side, and a three digit combination on the other. The doctor handed it to her, and she moseyed down the rows of lockers until she found the correct one. She eyed the combination as she turned the lock’s dial, and after a moment, she heard a click , and the door popped open. Rose let the weight of the duffel bag slide off her shoulder. She’d forgotten all about it until she realized that her neck and shoulder were sore.

“I don’t know how he’s sleeping through this,” Nate gave a hum of a laugh. Rose smiled at him and shook her head. She shrugged the jacket from her shoulders, and hung it neatly inside the locker.

“Me neither,” she said as she set their bags inside the locker.

The doctor had given them some privacy to disrobe and change into their new vault suits. Once she was down to her undergarments, Nate pulled Rose in for an embrace, and then he kissed her warmly. She smiled against his chest as she watched Shaun sleeping, cradled in Nate’s other arm. The suits were comfortable enough, form-fitting as they were. Rose stood in front of the mirror that hung on the inside of the locker door, turning this way and that, examining herself. She pursed her lips.

“You look fine, hon,” Nate said patiently.

Once they had finished changing, Doctor Prendergast led them across the hall into an examination room. He checked the couple’s vitals and had them fill out some brief medical history forms. Allergies, preexisting conditions, things like that. Rose handled the bulk of the paperwork while Nate held Shaun.

“Now, about those vaccinations I mentioned earlier,” Doctor Prendergast started. “They go hand in hand with our decontamination chambers, so I'm afraid they're mandatory for all new residents, your son included.”

“Doctor, are there any risks involved with them?” Nate asked. “I mean, what if one of us has a bad reaction?” He exchanged a worried look with Rose.

“Oh, I know this is frightening, but I promise you, the injection is very quick and painless, and it's made up of a complex, yet safe solution of amino acids and things to boost your immune system to all kinds of allergies and illnesses. In clinical trials, it was very successful. It was very rare that adverse reactions were observed. And, if such a case does occur, the staff is equipped with the proper methods of resolving it.” The doctor smiled patiently as he adjusted his glasses.

“Well,” Nate sighed. “Okay. Thank you, doctor. I guess I’ll go first.”

Sure enough, the shot was very quick, and according to Nate, rather painless. The doctor had administered it with a small hypodermic needle, after he drew some shiny yellow liquid from a tiny bottle. Rose rocked Shaun in her arms while Nate was given his exam.

“Everything looks fine,” Doctor Prendergast said as he unstrapped the blood pressure monitor from Nate’s bicep. The sound of the Velcro tearing caused Shaun to look around sort of bewildered, his eyes wide. He babbled and Rose talked quietly to him.

“All right, miss, it’s your turn,” Doctor Prendergast motioned towards Rose as Nate slid off the exam table. He rubbed the spot on his upper arm where he’d been given the shot before reaching out to take Shaun from Rose. She took a deep breath and placed her palms behind her on the table before hoisting herself up onto it. Needles didn’t necessarily bother her, but she still had to make herself look away when the doctor pressed the syringe into her arm.

“You’re doing great, honey,” Nate said warmly and she chuckled nervously. Shaun squealed excitedly as he reached out towards his mother and she laughed again.

“My, what a happy family,” Doctor Prendergast said as he finished up the injection.

“Thank you,” Nate said. “He’s ever the mama’s boy,” he laughed as he adjusted his grip on their son.

“Okay, the boy next.” Doctor Prendergast readied another syringe of the vaccine, but this time he only filled it about three-fourths as much as he had given to Rose and Nate. The couple set their child down on the exam table and he started huffing and puffing excitedly.

“Look at daddy,” Rose told her son as she pointed to Nate, who was now making goofy faces at the child. The doctor gently placed one hand around Shaun’s arm and the child turned to look at him in curiosity.

“Are we ready?” Doctor Prendergast asked. Nate and Rose nodded. Doctor Prendergast aimed the syringe slowly towards Shaun’s arm. Rose had to close her eyes. Shaun began to cry, and she heard Nate talking calmly to him. Just as quickly as he had started, the process was over, and Doctor Prendergast was placing a small bandage over the injection site. The couple let out a collective sigh, and they both tried to comfort their crying son. Doctor Prendergast went to the sink to wash his hands, his gloves coming off with slapping sounds. Rose picked up her son and held him closely as she rocked him gently in her arms. Doctor Prendergast was occupied with his clipboard while the couple quieted their son. Once Shaun had stopped crying, Doctor Prendergast spoke again.

“The vaccine is designed so that if there are adverse reactions, we will know almost immediately. Your son seems fine, but how are you two feeling?”

“I’m okay,” Nate shrugged.

“Yeah, I’m good, too.” Rose nodded.

“Great,” Doctor Prendergast made another note on his clipboard and headed towards the door. “Now, as I said, the next step is the decontamination chambers. After that, we’ll move you into your quarters.” He tapped his finger a couple of times on the screen of the large brown device on his arm. Rose hadn’t noticed it before, but it looked like one of those Pip-Boys she’d seen advertised on TV before. This one, though, looked more impressive. Probably specially designed for commercial or military use.

Rose and Nate followed the doctor out of the room and down the hall to a set of stairs. They descended a couple of levels and down more hallways before they were spit out into another ward that was unlabeled. How big was this vault? It seemed to go on forever.

Unlike the other floors in the vault, this one was composed of a much darker and thicker metal. The doctor opened one last large sliding door and the three of them stepped through the door, Shaun wiggling in Nate’s arms. Rose’s mouth fell open at the size of the room; giant silver pods lined each side of the platform, wires and tubing running to and fro behind each one. There was a thin layer of vapor hanging in the air that made the whole room feel slightly damp. There were groups of vault residents standing around most of the pods, along with several staff members. Most of the pods hung open like gaping maws, illuminated on the inside by two bright fluorescent lights. Some of the pods were already occupied, more vapor seeping out from them like smoke from a serpent’s nostrils.

Rose walked behind Doctor Prendergast as he descended down a few grated stairs and onto the imposing platform. She watched as the vault employees helped more residents up into the broad cubbies in the pods, getting them prepared for the decontamination sequence. Doctor Prendergast took them down to the very end of the walkway, to the last set of pods, and typed in some digits on the numpads of what Rose guessed to be the pods’ control terminals.

“Now, this process shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours, so just stay relaxed, and you’ll do fine.” Doctor Prendergast told them. “Ladies first,” he held his arm out toward the pod to his right. Rose smoothed her uniform to hide the fact that her palms were clammy. She took a step toward the pod, but then felt Nate’s hand on her arm.

“I love you, Rosie.”

“I love you, too,” she smiled and let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. He pecked her on the cheek and let her go.

The decontamination chamber was spacious enough, and it was composed mostly of a large, vinyl seat with all sorts of wiring and metal panels behind it. Two oxygen masks were tucked neatly at the top of the long headrest. Rose’s eyebrows perked up. So these pods could theoretically hold two full grown people if need be.

Rose sat back against the seat and Doctor Prendergast reached up behind her to grab the oxygen mask and help her secure it properly around her face. She waved to Shaun and Nate.

“Hey, I’ll see you soon,” Nate called to Rose as Doctor Prendergast returned to him.

Rose made herself breathe steadily while she watched Nate climb into the pod across from hers. He cradled Shaun delicately in his arms, and Doctor Prendergast helped him secure both masks. Then, he stepped back onto the platform and typed something in on the terminal next to Nate’s pod, and there was a sharp hiss from behind the chamber. The hatches began their descent towards the floor, and Rose took a deep breath, trying to remain calm. A cold chill ran down her spine and she shivered.

Her last thought was of her son.

 

Chapter Text

Rose’s mind drifts like the snow; she is chasing her son through some crystal chasm, and he’s laughing, but she can only see his warped reflection in the bent shards around her. The world burned away and left just the three of them in its wake. Now, it’s always cold, too cold, despite what shelter she can find. Nate’s shape curls into that of an old man in his reflection, the pink tourmaline almost seeping the life right out of him. When she looks at him, though, he hasn’t changed, but his mouth is always half open, like he’s about to say something. Rose never finds out what. Every day she sets out on a new route to get out of the ever changing cavern, and every day she ends up right where she started. Eventually, the crystals are a dark shade of shining grey, and they encase her, and she no longer hears her son’s laugh, and so she cries in the dark. The cold drips from the ceiling as if it were a leaky faucet, creating long tendrils and fangs of ice that only aim to devour her. Her limbs have stopped responding.

And then the frost slips away, but briefly.

 

Manual override initiated. Cryogenic stasis suspended.

 

Rose’s eyes opened slowly, like the lid of a coffin. She squinted reflexively at the sheer blue light pouring into her pod through its thick window. Her senses returned to her slowly and were it not for the breathing apparatus, she would've struggled with that too. After a moment,  she stretched out an arm to the glass carefully, and wiped at the frost with her sleeve. The vault suit was well-insulated against the stagnant cold of the pod. Through the glass, she could see Nate across from her, stirring just as lazily. A figure stepped into view from the right, cloaked from head to toe in a fitted white hazmat suit. The figure was pointing at Nate’s pod, and seemed to be speaking to someone behind them. Rose opened her mouth to speak but her breath caught sharply in her lungs, her body refusing to cooperate with the command she’d given it. She coughed weakly and caught her breath just as a second figure moved into view in front of Nate’s pod. This person looked very out of place juxtaposed next to the one in the hazmat suit. She couldn’t make out much about the second figure, just that he was garbed in a vastly different outfit. Her pod’s door muffled their dialogue so she leaned toward the window, trying to listen better.

“Open it,” the man commanded the woman in the hazmat suit in a rough voice. When he gestured to Nate’s pod, Rose noticed he was holding a large handgun. She struggled with her weak body, trying to make herself stand. The woman in the suit approached the terminal next to Nate’s pod and typed something in. Rose heard a quiet hiss, and Nate’s pod door released. Light poured out of it, and she could see him and their son illuminated before the two strangers. Rose managed to rise out of her seat, but her legs buckled and she fell awkwardly against the pod’s window. Nate coughed and slumped over. Shaun began to wail loudly.

“Wh - is it over? Are we okay?” Nate asked drily, his voice failing him. The woman approached him with her arms outstretched. Rose pushed against the glass, trying breathlessly to call out to her husband.

“Almost. Everything’s going to be fine,” the man said to him, as the woman began grasping gently for Shaun.

“Come here, baby. Come here,” she was speaking to Shaun now as she reached for him cautiously. Nate jerked away from her.

“No, wait,” Nate panted. “Wait! I’ve got him,” he argued with the woman who was now engaging in a tug-of-war with Nate over Shaun. Rose pounded weakly on the window, her chest burning from her efforts to cry out. All she managed to do was shriek hoarsely.

“Sir, I need you to calm down, please,” the woman said.

“Let the boy go,” the man raised his gun and aimed at Nate.

Rose swatted her hands desperately at the glass and looked the cabin of her pod over, hoping to find an emergency release. Nate continued to struggle weakly against the woman trying to take their son.

“I’m only gonna tell you once!” the man bellowed and cocked his gun.

“No! I’m not giving you Shaun!” Nate rasped.

Rose saw time slow down as the cruel marauder fired a muffled shot, and Nate’s head fell backward, almost as if some force was going to yank it from his shoulders. His body fell limp into his pod’s seat, his arms still barely hanging onto Shaun who had started squealing. The woman in the hazmat suit stepped further into the cabin of Nate’s pod and removed the oxygen mask from Shaun. She cradled him closely to keep him from squirming so much. Rose, now fueled by some primal emotion without a name, pounded fiercely against the glass of the pod, sobbing furiously.

“God damn it,” the man said, rubbing a hand over his balding head. “Get the kid and let’s go…” he turned to face Rose now, leaning in to peer at her through the glass with a wicked grin. “At least we still have the backup.”

Rose screamed. The man looked her over curiously, one eye marred with a deep, maroon scar. He turned and followed the woman in the hazmat suit, and as they disappeared from view, Rose felt that familiar grip of cold seeping in to cocoon itself around her. The door to Nate’s pod hissed and then lowered back down, sealing him in, too.

 

Cryogenic sequence reinitialized.



This time the snow burns into Rose’s skin the same as a fire until she is consumed. She tears at her prison with tooth and nail, but to no avail; she must remain in this broken place forever now. Hopelessness devours her as she relives the loop of Nate’s death over and over, and each time it burns more brightly into her, until eventually she knows nothing else. This is her world now: nothingness, all except for the loss of that which would’ve kept her going after the rest of the world had died. Somewhere, she dies, too. She floats for ages across a sea of broken glass, a melancholy like none she’s ever known wearing thin the layers of her mind. The gunshot that killed Nate becomes a sick soundtrack accentuated by Shaun’s cries. Let me die, just let me die, she prays.

One day, though, she happens upon a toppled megalith that scars the landscape for miles. Looks like it’s been sliced in twain by God himself. She reaches out to touch it, but when she makes contact, it blooms into thousands of nightshade plants, which then let go of their final breath. She lies down among the flower’s carcasses, until she, too, becomes part of the earth. Her bones sink into the dead petals as if they are hungry for her. At some point she hears Doctor Prendergast’s voice. She manages to turn her head to see a noisome magpie perched on a broken fencepost. He’s repeating the Doctor’s lies, but it doesn’t matter anymore. Rose doesn’t even have the resolve to throw a rock at the stupid bird. She looks back at the sky, full of pale, crumbling stars.

After a long time, the bird’s tone changes, suddenly, frightfully. His entire form expands to nearly five times that of his original self, and he takes off from his spot on the post. His wings push him up into the air, and he circles above Rose, all the while cawing louder and louder. Rose feels the talons go deep in her chest, and the magpie utters one last wicked thing to her.

 

Critical failure in cryogenic array. All vault residents must vacate immediately.  

 

Rose was awakened by her own violent reactions to what she assumed was an error in the life support system. She coughed and coughed, gasping for air, her eyes assailed once more by that blue light. Her hands fumbled up and around her oxygen mask, and the door of her pod hissed. She removed the mask as the door peeled up and open, clutching the support handles on either side of the cabin. She lifted a foot to take a step out of the cryo pod, not stopping to think about how weak her limbs might have grown.

Her leg gave way and she tumbled out of the pod, landing hard, almost face-first on the metal floor. She cried out in pain and rolled onto her side, coughs wracking her body once more. She realized now that the emergency lights affixed to the ceiling were flashing. Her stomach lurched and she vomited onto the floor, most of it dripping through the metal grating. The contents of her stomach were a dull yellow, and the stench made her sick again. Finally, after she was sure there was nothing left, she took several deep breaths and wiped her forehead with her sleeve. She spat a few times to rid her mouth of the taste of vomit, and when she caught her breath, she tried again to stand up but her body simply wouldn’t cooperate. She dragged herself over to Nate’s pod, growing ever desperate about her practically limp body. She tried again and again to rise from her spot by using Nate’s cryo chamber as a support, but each time she fell. Before she knew it, she was crying furiously again, like she had been when the strangers came. She cursed the gods and heaven above, cursed the Vault-tec employees, cursed the damned war, venomous words dripping from her maw until she had cried herself out. She sat in a sad heap beside Nate’s pod, wiping away her tears with her sleeves until they were soaked. She said his name once, remembering again that he’d been killed right in front of her and there was nothing she could do. And where had Shaun been taken? And who had taken him? She wasn’t sure she would live long enough to figure that out. She couldn’t forget that face. Not in a million years. There was no way for her to know how long ago he’d been there, staring mockingly at her through the glass, but it felt like mere minutes ago. She burned his image into her mind, eventually seething with rage and crying again. She would find him. She would string him up by the neck. Even if it killed her, too. She had to get moving first, though.

She started small, testing each of her fingers and her toes, focusing on making them move fully before moving onto something else. She sat up slowly and took off her boots, and then pulled each of her feet one by one into her lap to massage her calf muscles. Then she moved to her thighs, gently trying to squeeze life back into them. Next, she pointed and flexed both feet several times, and lifted each leg up and back down. After that, she massaged her biceps, and then what she could reach of her shoulders. She took a deep breath and pulled her legs underneath her. Leaning against the pod, she pushed up slowly, concentrating on her breathing. She didn’t have the courage to face what she knew was inside the pod yet, so she kept doing her exercises. She paced the metal walkway slowly, back in forth, in increasingly bigger strides. Her eyes wandered to the cryo chambers around her, and she kept asking herself why none of the other pods were releasing if there had been an emergency. She walked to the other end of the room, and approached the main terminal. A notification was flashing on the screen. It just read:   WARNING! CRITICAL FAILURE!

Rose crossed her arms and glanced up at the door, unsure of whether or not she should try the terminal. She sighed. If any of the staff members were coming, they would’ve been here by now. Was that man who killed Nate part of the staff? Or had he and his accomplice singlehandedly disposed of all the staff? She shook her head to herself and let her arms fall to her side. Then she looked the keypad over before pressing the Enter key. The notification disappeared and another text box appeared.

 

CRITICAL FAILURE IN CRYOGENIC ARRAY

ALL VAULT RESIDENTS MUST EVACUATE IMMEDIATELY…

. . . . . . . ERROR

PLEASE FOLLOW MANUAL EMERGENCY RELEASE PROTOCOL........

Rose tapped the Enter key once more, and more text generated on the screen.

ENGAGE MANUAL CHAMBER RELEASE?

YES / NO

The ‘no’ option was highlighted. Rose tapped the left arrow key to select ‘yes’ and hit Enter.

PLEASE WAIT. . . . . .

MANUAL RELEASE ENABLED.

Rose watched the screen change again, back to what she assumed was the main menu. She turned to look at the first pod. The glass was frosted over, but she could still barely see inside. This was… who? Pete, she thought. Pete Glass? Was that his name? He lived up the street from her and Nate, but she’d only spoken to him a handful of times, at some of the neighborhood cookouts. She glanced at the numpad beside his cryopod, and reached for the small red handle she could only assume was for the manual release. She stopped short. Should she even have the authority to do this? To doom her neighbors to this potentially ruined life? To whatever might await them in the vault, or on the surface? Or would she be a murderer if she just let them die? She chewed her lip for a moment before she touched a trembling finger to the button. It depressed, and she waited for that familiar hiss, but nothing happened. The cryopod remained undisturbed, the soft hum of electricity keeping the machinery going. Rose heard a voice from somewhere above her.

Malfunction in cryopod manual release override.

“What?” Rose looked up at the voice, her brow knit together in disbelief. She pumped the lever again.

Malfunction in cryopod manual release override.

“Fuck. You’re kidding me,” she scoffed. She stepped back and turned to face the pod across from Pete’s. She didn’t even look inside, she just tried the lever.

Malfunction in cryopod manual release override.

“No,” she tried the lever again and again and only got the same result. “No, no, no!” Her voice trembled. She trudged over to each pod, one by one, trying the release levers, only to hear the same automated response from the speakers overhead. She grew more desperate with each failed attempt, moving between the cryochambers as fast as she could without making herself motion sick. Her heart beat rapidly against her chest; she could feel exhaustion creeping up on her.

“I can’t be the only one,” she muttered, tears threatening to stain her cheeks once more. She was wrenching the levers down now, over and over, baring her teeth, cursing the automated voice. None, not one, of the pods would open. She reached the end of the rows of pods, where hers sat across from Nate’s; she let out a ragged breath and leaned her back against his cryochamber again. Tears streaked down her face again and she sobbed quietly, her lip curling up over bared teeth. Why would Vault-tec do this? She looked over to the control panel beside Nate’s chamber, wondering if she should try it, wondering if she would even be able to handle what she’d find inside if it did open. She saw her hand reach out for it but it was like watching herself in third person. Her fingers wrapped around the red lever, and her hand pushed down. She waited for that infuriating automated voice again, but what she heard instead was the sharp hiss of the pod’s pressure release. Her eyes widened in shock, and she moved away from the pod so that it could open. The door lifted open, frost and condensation pouring from inside, and Rose lifted a hand to her mouth.

Nate’s limp body was perfectly preserved. So well, in fact, that the blood from his head wound looked like it would be fresh if it were to thaw. She whimpered into her hand as she examined the crude hole in her husband’s forehead. This moment was eerily quiet save for the dripping of melting ice and the hum of the machinery. Rose had never felt more alone than in this moment; her husband lay dead before her, her son was gone, everyone but her had been sealed into an icy tomb, and she was completely, and utterly, alone.

She reached out to touch his cheek, almost flinching at how unnatural this felt to her, despite how many times she had done so before, in their old life.

“I’m so sorry…” she told him. She narrowed her brows. “I’m going to find who did this. And I’m going to get Shaun back,” she promised firmly. She looked down to his hands, and noticed his wedding ring glinting faintly in the light. She gently pulled it from his finger and held it up to her lips for a moment before slipping it into her pocket. She ran the back of her hand down his face before uttering a quiet goodbye. She lowered the lever on his control panel and watched the hatch shut him in once again.

Chapter Text

Rose sighed wearily as she started towards the large sliding door at the front of the room. With Nate behind her, she knew her first steps forward were getting out of this vault, and trying to figure out what the hell was going on. She pressed the button beside the door and to her luck, it slid open effortlessly. She peered out into the large husk of a hallway, looking around for any signs of life. After a moment she headed to the left, towards the door she and Nate had come through on their way in. It was shut, so she tried the button but there was no response. She pressed the button again, but to no avail. She shrugged and turned around, heading for the door on the opposite side. It opened without any trouble, and Rose walked through cautiously. Rose examined the scene around her, and with every step, she grew more certain that this place had been abandoned for quite a while. Various maintenance equipment and tools littered the floor of the corridor, and there were loose papers and wiring scattered here and there. The posters that yet remained on the wall were faded and covered in a layer of dust. Rose frowned, turning a corner, and trying to clear her dry throat. Suddenly she let out a startled yelp and nearly fell backwards.

The wall to her left was adorned with several large, rectangular windows, and perched on the other side of the window, was a roach the size of a dog, antennae twitching. Rose did a double take, her face contorting into a mix of pure fright and disgust. She blinked several times, frozen in place as the roach crawled across the window slowly. She took a reluctant step forward, and then another, her curiosity getting the better of her. What the hell?

The roach’s wings flittered, and suddenly it took off, hitting its head on the window a few times before taking off in another direction. Rose did fall backward this time, after letting out another awkward yelp. She scooted herself away from the window with her palms, until her back hit the opposite wall. Her skin crawled and she shivered. She picked herself up after a moment, and sidestepped into the doorway closest to her. It opened into what looked to be a large living area with tables and chairs, a full kitchen, and another corridor that branched off into the bunk room and the locker rooms. Though it was a quaint space, Rose imagined that the staff would've been rather comfortable here. However, now the place was completely disheveled. Chairs and tables alike were overturned, dirty dishes covered several of the kitchen counters, and as Rose made her way further in, she could see that most of the bunks were displaced. She peeked through the locker room’s door, and saw that almost all the doors hung open, some of them tilting and barely clinging to rusted hinges. Rose went straight into the restroom and turned the handle on one of the sink’s faucets. Nothing. She tried the others, and just when she was ready to give up, one of the sinks stuttered and then started dripping slowly. Rose hovered over the sink anxiously. After a minute, the flow of water quickened and she cupped her hands underneath the faucet. It ran clear, so she drank without hesitation. Each time she filled her hands and brought them to her lips, the water was cold and refreshing, quenching the harshness that had blistered its way into her throat.

After she’d had enough, she turned off the faucet and wiped her mouth with her sleeve. Her stomach growled, and she made a face. She was doubtful there’d be any food left, but she made the kitchen her next destination.

Unfortunately, her hunch was correct, and though she rifled through every drawer and cabinet, she could find nothing more than crumbs. She knew she needed to find something to eat soon. She went to the bunk room next, surveying the mess for anything important. Nothing but dust and discarded tv dinner plates. One thing did catch her eye, and that was the computer desk against a wall at the far end of the room. She moseyed over to it and pressed the power button. It flickered to life, causing Rose’s brows to perk up.

“Huh,” she said, blowing dust off the old keyboard. She sat down in the chair and waited for the thing to boot up. When it did, she tabbed through the options, skimming through the various journals of the crew. Nothing but day-to-day logs of staff morale, ramblings of crew members, and... the process of the cryogenic experiment. Rose held her breath as she skimmed through the list of names.

 

HALLORAN; ROSE, NATE, SHAUN - CRYOPODS 31 & 32.

 

Rose got up from the desk and paced the floor for a moment, one hand covering her mouth. They did this on purpose. This was no accident. She stopped and stared at the screen from afar for a long time. Finally, she carefully made her way back to it, and continued reading. As she progressed to the later entries, the crew’s journals began to grow more and more frightening.

The last entry sent a chill down Rose’s spine.

 

"...No All-Clear from Vault-Tec is coming. We need to leave. We're all but out of food. I almost murdered Stanley for dropping a damn salt cracker on the floor.

 

A handful of us confronted the Overseer about opening up the Vault. I never knew a man that small could shout that loud. Now he's locked himself in his office along with the rest of the science staff. We're supposed to hand over any food, weapons, and medicine we have by tonight, or there's "going to be consequences."

I've talked to everyone. It's time. One way or another, we're getting out of this Vault."

 

Rose swallowed hard to clear the lump from her throat. Even the Vault-tec employees had been fucked over, in the end. She shook her head, wondering to herself if any of them had made it out alive. She sat in silence, a hundred emotions pulling at her. After a time, she navigated back to the terminal’s home screen, and noticed an option that just said RED MENACE. She tabbed down to it and hit the Enter key and the screen changed to a detailed animation of a large and angry cephalopod. She knit her brows together. She’d heard of these games but never had a chance to play one for herself. She hit the Enter key again to start the game. The mechanics were simple enough; jump over small flaming objects while you navigate slanted floors from left to right, and climbing ladders to reach the top of the level where the enemy was. Rose lost track of how long she played, getting several GAME OVER screens and becoming frustrated before she finally decided she’d had enough. She exited the game and saw an ‘eject’ option. She looked around the room briefly. They won’t be using it anymore.

 

She tucked the game cartridge in her pocket and turned off the computer. On her way out of the room, she noticed something barely sticking out from underneath one of the cots. She pried it out gently and was pleased to find a security baton. She clicked the button on the handle and it extended to its full length. Not the best defense, but it was better than nothing. She looked at the door, remembering the roaches and her stomach churned. She sighed again, and made herself press onward.

 

She slowly approached the window again, clutching the security baton close to her chest. She arched her neck forward to peer through the glass, looking for the roach. Instead she saw several, all in different places, sitting still save for the twitching of their antennae. She gulped and shivered. She headed to the right, and traveled down another hallway, eventually finding the doorway leading into the room with the roaches, and realized that it was a sort of energy plant.

There were large transformers here and there, cables twinkling with electricity spanning the length of each one. Rose looked around the room for a clear path through it, but before she could make any real plan, she heard small noises coming from different places around her. Two of the giant roaches were crawling toward her, making quiet squeaking sounds. She extended her baton once more, tensing up. One of the roaches’ wings fluttered, and it buzzed towards Rose. Instinctively, she swatted at it with the baton, and knocked it out of the air. It landed on the ground, letting out a loud squeak, and Rose closed her eyes as she stomped her boot down on the creature. Her stomach churned at the sound of the bug under her foot. She jumped backward at a very slight pain on her shin, and realized that the other roach was now attacking her with its small mouth. She reared back to kick the roach and sent it backward, only to cause it to fly back towards her. She swatted the baton again and it crunched on contact with the oversized insect.

After defeating three more of the vile bugs, Rose felt overwhelmingly queasy. She felt like jumping out of her skin when she encountered regular roaches, but these, she could barely handle. It didn’t help that she couldn’t take her eyes off the gnarled, gooey carcasses. She gagged, and turned away from the scene of her small battle, but when she stepped backward, something else crunched beneath her boot. She looked down, and saw a tattered Vault Suit draped like a curtain over a skeleton. She lifted her boot and saw that she’d crushed the skull.

 

The contents of Rose’s stomach emptied onto the floor. Her breathing was ragged and she cried hysterically as she fled from the room into the nearest corridor, opposite the one she’d entered from. She clambered up a short set of stairs, panting. When she encountered more of the giant roaches, she screamed at them as she fought them, swiping at them with her baton. Once she’d dispatched another meager group of the bugs, she all but fell to the ground against a wall for a rest.

Finally, she made her way into a sizable room at the end of yet another decrepit hallway. This room was far more embellished than the crew’s quarters: wood paneling on the walls and floors, a large desk in the center of the main room, and several large filing cabinets lining the northern wall. Rose wandered cautiously through the room, keeping an eye out for more of the roaches. Is this the overseer’s office? She crept into one of the side rooms that branched off from the one with the desk, finding another bathroom, only this one was clearly made to resemble a sort of ‘master bathroom.’ She caught sight of the sink and practically pounced on it. Luckily, it worked, and she drank more handfuls. She pulled back from the sink after a moment, and her reflection stopped her short.

Her face, although sticky with sweat and mucus, eyes bloodshot, still looked as untouched as the day she’d entered the Vault. She watched her reflection, mesmerized, and lowered herself back into the sink to rinse her face. Once she was cleaned up a little, she meandered back into the main room with the desk. Another terminal sat on top of the desk, and she figured she might as well skim through it for any more information. Something poking out from underneath the desk caught her attention, and she moved closer, bracing herself for whatever it may be.

When Rose stepped forward to look at the mysterious object, she realized it was a booted foot, attached to another decomposed human skeleton. She stepped awkwardly around the body, trying not to stir up the layers of dust that had collected atop of its shabby clothing. She leaned down to examine the terminal, trying to ignore the skeleton beneath her. It flickered to life when she pressed the power button, but offered a different startup screen than the last. This was the Overseer’s computer. It warned that the information contained within was for select eyes only. Rose ignored the warning and began to peruse the files, starting with one labeled Overseer Instructions. Her eyes scanned the letters and she shifted uncomfortably.

“Vault 111 is designed to test the long-term effects of suspended animation on unaware, human subjects. Your staff will be on short-term assignment to monitor basic cardiopulmonary and cognitive functions. The test subjects have been administered a serum designed to prolong the life of their cells during their hibernation. Long-term monitoring will be handled remotely by Vault-Tec technicians.

 

Under no circumstance is suspension to be disrupted. This includes the administration of live-saving measures. Your staff is also considered expendable. Insubordination or attempts to evacuate prematurely are capital violations. Unused cryogenic pods are the preferred method for cadaver disposal.”

 

Rose lifted a hand to cover her mouth. The other was at use steadying herself against the desk. She exited the instructions log and ignored the other entries, tabbing down to an option that said OPEN EVACUATION TUNNEL. Without a second thought, she hit the Enter key. The screen flashed another message at her, as the door straight ahead of her slid open.

The personnel evacuation tunnel is now open. Remind all staff to be orderly and follow shutdown protocols before exiting and re-sealing Vault 111.

 Please maintain all staff records and research. Report to your local Vault-Tec superiors for debriefing and further instruction.

Thank you for choosing Vault-tec, and have a nice day!

 

Rose scowled deeply at the screen, anger bubbling up to replace the fear and sadness that had been weighing her down. She turned to leave the desk and noticed something on the far wall that she hadn’t before. There was a giant, clear, locked case bolted to the wall that contained an enormous weapon.

“What the hell…?” she examined the case more closely before turning to glance around the room. She inspected the Overseer’s chambers extensively for the key but turned up nothing, save for some bobby pins, and a few empty purified water containers. She filled them at the sink, fastened their tops, and tucked them under her arm. “Guess I’m coming back for you,” she thought aloud, taking one last look at the monster of a gun before departing through the door she’d opened with the terminal. It led to another hallway, and she found herself anxiously picking up her pace. The Vault was like a maze, but to her luck, there were diagrams and maps on walls in various locations that she could use to find her way. She stopped to look at one, and noticed that she wasn’t far from the medical ward. She breathed in a short gasp, remembering suddenly the locker that contained her and Nate’s belongings. She made a beeline down the hall, keeping an eye out for more of the roaches.

Once she’d made it to the medical ward, she pilfered through drawers and cabinets here and there, looking for supplies and any food. She found a screwdriver, and tucked it in her pocket. She perked up instantly when she tore open a stuck filing cabinet and two cans of potato crisps came tumbling out. She dropped to the ground like an animal after them, and examined the tubes carefully with shaking hands. They were still both factory-sealed, and most of the lettering was intact, including the expiration date. She frowned. What good was an expiration date if she didn’t even know where - or when, rather - she was? She shrugged and opened a can, finding golden-brown chips inside. She picked one out and looked it over for contaminants before popping it into her mouth. It crunched loudly, and the taste left something to be desired, but it was better than nothing. She settled into a comfortable sitting position against a wall, and made herself eat slowly. She had to get something in her stomach, but she didn’t want to overdo it. She took sips of water between every few chips, taking in the scenery of the abandoned medical wing.

It was eerie in more ways than one. She didn’t want to imagine the things that might lie in this corner of the vault. She hummed quietly just to keep the silence at bay. The fluorescent lights hummed overhead providing a dim light across the place: overturned tables, paperwork littering the counters and floors, and the layers of dust. Once she was full, Rose picked herself up and dusted the crumbs from her vault uniform. She cleared a space on one of the nearby counters and set her food and water down. She’d come back for them once she had something in which to transport them.

After getting lost once, Rose finally found the locker room. The door was locked, so she approached the terminal and it powered on after a slow boot process. She was greeted by that familiar Vault-tec startup screen, and then it asked her for a password. Shit. She thought back to when Dr. Prendergast had accessed this terminal. Nate had distracted her from seeing Prendergast’s keystrokes, and she couldn’t begin to guess what the password might be. She started typing slowly, spelling out V-A-U-L-T-1-1-1 and hitting enter. The computer beeped at her and showed an error message. She tried the keyboard shortcut that she’d been told by a coworker once that supposedly would take you to a hacking screen. To her surprise, the screen changed, and was now lit up by hundreds of various symbols with a few short words mixed in here and there. Rose chewed her lip, crossing her arms as she looked over the mess of characters. Finally she reached back out to the keyboard and tabbed to select one of the words. The screen gave her another error message. She sighed, selecting a different word and pressing Enter. This time, the terminal locked her out completely.

“What? No!” she huffed as she punched different letters on the keyboard, to no avail. She let out a frustrated breath, and kicked the locker room door. It jostled slightly, and this caused her to notice the door’s lock. She knelt down to examine the thing, pulling her screwdriver and the bobby pins from her pocket, and set to work picking it. It took a couple of tries to get back in the swing of it, and one of the bobby pins snapped right before the lock would’ve popped open, but Rose eventually heard it click open. Her father’s words echoed in her head.

“Mass-produced locks are easily defeated, Rosey,” her father had said nobly, patting her on the back after she’d successfully picked one of the practice locks from his locksmith’s kit. He’d taken her with him that day, on one of his service calls. Her father’s client had locked himself out of his office, and Rose had begged to go with him to learn about his work.

Rose smiled fondly to herself, remembering her father, a balding man of average height, picking locks for a living.

 

Inside the locker room, yet another mess awaited Rose. The place had been ransacked, lockers flung open, their contents spilled across the tile floor. Rose knit her brow together, looking back at the door. The crew had obviously left in a hurry, yet someone had gone to the trouble of locking the door back. She made her way to the locker she and Nate had been assigned, and cursed under her breath when she found it half-pried open, the door crudely bent out of shape. She grabbed hold of the metal and forced it the rest of the way open. Her duffel bag fell out and dropped to the floor in a heap, stirring up a tiny cloud of dust. Rose waved the dust away, kneeling down to retrieve her bag. She rifled through the bag, her brow knit together, hands swiping away at less important belongings. Both of her weapons were gone, as well as the ammunition. She cursed again.

She felt the cold metal of a necklace chain and pulled it swiftly from the bag. Nate’s military tags. She held the pendants in her hand, running a thumb over the stamped letters that spelled out his name. She slipped the necklace over her head and kept looking through the bag, and from it she pulled a thick 5x7 picture book. Despite her better judgment, she opened it to the first page and saw herself as a girl, standing beside her father and his blue work van. Both of them were smiling, and the lettering on her father’s van looked brand new. Rose felt tears welling in her eyes again. She flipped to a different page in the book and saw herself and Nate, all dressed up for their college’s homecoming dance. She laughed, and it was soft, and brittle, and it shook the tears from her eyes and sent them flowing down her cheeks. The next page she turned to was towards the end of the book, and it was of Shaun as a newborn, bundled up in his father’s arms, with his exhausted parents lying in a hospital bed. Rose clutched the book to her chest and sobbed quietly. She wiped her face with the back of her arm once more, her gaze narrowing to her son’s small form. She clenched her teeth together and dropped the book back into the bag, then slid the strap over her head. She stood and went through the rest of the locker before grabbing her husband’s army jacket from its hook. It was heavier than she remembered, so she checked the pockets, and pulled out a pistol with a shaking hand. Rose’s eyes went wide. Tucked into the trigger guard was a slip of paper. She unfolded it, and written in hasty lettering was a message.

Mrs. Halloran,

I am so, so sorry. You have to understand that we’re just doing our jobs. And even so, we’ve been betrayed, too. I pray that you never have to experience this new world. Even if that means you and your family are never awoken from cryosleep. I’m leaving this behind for you, just in case. I can only hope that, if worse comes to worse, you find it.

If you do wake up, you need to use a Pip-Boy to exit the Vault.

- Dr. Prendergast

 

 

Rose crumpled the note and threw it across the room. She donned the jacket and slammed the locker closed, stomping out of the room and back to the counter on which she’d left her forageables. Rose stopped for a moment to examine the gun that Prendergast had left behind for her. It wasn’t the same pistol that she and Nate had brought in with them, but a 10mm with a 12 round magazine would do. She packed her things and left, keeping the image of her son’s face in the front of her mind.

 

The rest of the vault wasn’t too difficult to navigate, and eventually she found her way to the entrance. The landing was as much a mess as the rest of the vault, save for one detail: the entryway was littered with the corpses of the vault employees. Rose stepped over them, trying to keep from looking at them for too long. The mutiny had failed. She remembered the words of Dr. Prendergast, scribbled on the paper. She glanced across the floor, to see if any of the bodies were equipped with the large wrist-computers. Nothing. She searched through a side room, picking up more cans of water, and some more ammunition. She grabbed an extra vault suit in her size. Still factory-sealed. She remembered the woman who had been passing them out, how eager she’d seemed. Rose scowled and left the room, approaching the large terminal desk next to the metal walkway. She scanned its controls, tapping various buttons and switches, garnering no response. She turned to look at the bodies again, sighing as she realized she’d have to take a more in-depth look at them. She perked up a little when she noticed one cloaked in a white lab coat. She crept over to it and took a deep breath before taking hold of the decaying white fabric, and pulling on it so that the body rolled over towards her. A puff of dust escaped from the skeleton and Rose turned away, coughing. She pulled the front of her vault suit up over her nose and looked back at the skeleton. The name-tag was just barely readable.

J. Prendergast, M.D. Vault 111 attending physician.

 

Rose tugged at the left sleeve of the lab coat to reveal the Pip-Boy, still barely attached to Prendergast’s decomposed arm. She took another deep breath before reaching down to remove it. It unclasped easily, and the bones of his arm clattered to the floor. Rose stepped away from the body, unable to suppress a shiver that wracked her whole body. She spent a few minutes cleaning the wrist lining of the Pip-Boy before putting it on her left arm. She pushed the power button and waited nervously for it to respond. She almost laughed when it thrummed to life, ticking and flashing her various welcome screens. An animation of a smiling boy in a vault suit gave her a thumbs up, and the screen changed to a sort of main menu. She went back to the desk to figure out how exactly she was supposed to use this thing to open the door. One of the desk panels was equipped with a small diagram that showed a cylindrical white object on the back of the Pip-Boy, connected to it by a short wire. The next step was to put the end of this object into an access port on the desk. Rose followed the steps with her fingers crossed. The Pip-Boy’s screen changed again, and this time it said:

VAULT DOOR REMOTE ACCESS

READY

She waited for a moment before pulling the object from the port, then she pressed the large red button beside it. Rose was completely caught off-guard. She braced herself against the desk, startled by the commotion that she’d started. The lights went out, and a warning siren began to blare. Orange lights danced in circles across every surface, and the familiar automated voice of the vault began an announcement.

Vault door cycling sequence initiated. Please stand back.

A large mechanism lowered from the ceiling in front of the vault door, and was slowly propelled towards a gear-shaped crevice in the center. It latched onto something within the door, puffs of exhaust shooting from its side, and Rose could hear a loud whirring sound from inside. After a minute, the device began to pull backward, and with it came the entirety of the vault door. Light peeked through each crack, and gust of wind blew through the whole landing. Rose held a hand across her forehead, shielding her eyes from the bright light as she made her way around to the metal walkway. Once the door was out of the way, the floor automatically extended all the way through the door. She lost track of herself, half-jogging across the walkway, down the stairs, and up to the large elevator. It was already waiting for her at the bottom of the shaft. The grating across the shaft folded open. Rose stepped up onto the large platform, took one last look at the vault, and thumped the button with the outer edge of her balled fist. The elevator creaked to life, its gears turning in an uneven rhythm as it propelled her upward. Rose made herself take deep breaths as she glanced upward at the gate that had begun to open. She squinted in the harsh light, again holding her hand over her face as a shield. The smell of the world outside filled the chamber, but it was different than she remembered. Eventually the light became too harsh for Rose to keep her eyes open.

The platform peeked over the edge of the elevator shaft, and Rose felt the sun gleaning down on her. She opened her eyes finally, blinking against the harsh light. Her mouth fell open and her form slumped backward.

 

This wasn’t the world she’d left behind.

Chapter Text

Rose exhaled a slow breath, and her heart dropped into her stomach. She blinked in the harsh sunlight, letting her eyes adjust. The view from the top of the hill was just as unnerving as it had been on the day the bombs had fallen. This time around, though, what had once been a sprawling suburb surrounded by colorful foliage had been replaced by a wasteland of overgrowth. Crooked trees littered the landscape, and the houses below were mere shadows of their former selves. Several of them had been completely wiped out, leaving behind only a large mess of rubble and crooked metal scraps. Nothing had been left untouched. Her heart raced, and it was all she could do to keep from falling over.

Her first tentative steps took her from the elevator platform to the edge of the hill, where she could overlook the remains of her neighborhood a little more clearly. How much time had passed since she’d gone into the vault? Rose looked behind her to the elevator platform to see that a thick layer of rust was covering the majority of the floor and the metal around it. There were several construction cranes a couple of Vault-tec trailers off to the side of the platform, and they, too, were covered in rust, their faded blue and yellow paint peeling and cracked. Without really even thinking about it, Rose started down the hill. Her feet guided her onward, past several other piles of rubble and human remains. She reached the chain-link fence that the military had been guarding the day of the bombs, the one through which she and Nate had been granted passage just in time. The fence was curled out of shape, covered in rust, and barely standing. As Rose passed through the gate, she stepped around another pile of bodies, and stopped. A sliver of pink cloth was peeking out of the heap. A badly decomposed skeleton draped in scraps of a pink dress was covering two smaller collections of bones. Two tiny skulls lay beside each other in the grass.

Horrified, Rose stumbled away from the heap, unrestrained sobs of panic rattling her frame. I killed them. I killed them. Rose tore down the hill in an irregular gait. Anywhere but here, her mind screamed as she clambered through the woods, and across the remains of the wooden bridge that would take her back home. She and Nate had passed over this bridge many a time, on their routine walks around the neighborhood. It creaked and wobbled beneath her, but she didn’t stop. She reached the edge of the woods and her pace quickened as she climbed the ruined concrete slope up to the ghost of her neighborhood. She tripped over a knot of weeds, and collapsed in the thick, brown grass. Her breath was shallow, cries of panic escaping her throat. She gripped clumps of grass between her fingers and ripped it from the ground. A short pinging noise grabbed her attention. An orange light on the side of the Pip-Boy was flashing. She wiped her hand off on her jacket before touching two fingers to the screen. It lit up, and a notification flashed on the screen.

 

You’ve arrived in:

Sanctuary Hills

 

Rose sniffed, clearing the notification from the screen, and another one took its place.

 

ERROR: date unknown.

ERROR: time unknown.

Please set the time/date.

 

Rose’s eyebrows narrowed, and she reached a shaky hand toward one of the knobs on the side of the Pip-Boy, but then something in the corner of her eye grabbed her attention. Somewhere, down the street, something had moved between the ruined houses.

“Codsworth?” she heard herself croak out as she leaned forward to get a better look. The silver frame of a Mr. Handy bot was floating around ahead of her. Rose stood, legs weary, and wandered towards the bot. Rose trudged cautiously down the street, and saw that the robot was floating across the yard of her old home. The roof had nearly caved in, and there were whole pieces missing from some of the outer walls. The blue paint was sun-bleached, and the sedan in the carport was nothing more than rusted shrapnel.

“Codsworth,” Rose said again. The silver Mr. Handy turned around and all three of his optic limbs shifted incredulously.

“As I live and breathe!” he said, astonished. Other than some missing fixings, and some rust, he was in surprisingly good shape. “It’s,” Codsworth paused and floated closer to Rose to get a better look at her. “It’s REALLY you!”

“Oh, my God, Codsworth,” Rose let out a shaky breath. “What happened?”

“Well,” Codsworth considered her for a moment. “Besides our geraniums still being the envy of Sanctuary Hills, I’m afraid things have been dreadfully dull around here.”

Rose furrowed her brow, her lips parting slightly to reply, but she was unsure of what to say.

“Oh, things will be so much more exciting with you and Sir back!” Codsworth cheered, the spout of fire that propelled him around sending him up a little higher. “Where is your better half, by the way?” the robot extended one of his eyes to look around Rose. A deep frown replaced her look of confusion.

“Codsworth,” Rose started, crossing her arms and slouching forward. “They… someone killed him.” She spoke to the ground now, head folded between weeping willow shoulders. Her mind went back to the image of the brutish man in the black leather firing his gun without a second thought. Rose had to stop herself short, wincing at the rest of the memory. It was too much.

“Mum, these things you’re saying. These… terrible things… I…” Codsworth paused, using an appendage to scratch his head. “I believe you need a distraction. Yes! A distraction to calm this dire mood.” Codsworth perked up slightly again.

“No, Codsworth, what -” Rose started.

“It’s been ages since we’ve had a proper family activity. Checkers! Or perhaps charades? Shaun does so love that game. Is the lad… with you?” Codsworth asked.

“Codsworth, please, you’re not listening. Someone killed Nate, and they took Shaun. Did you see anyone? Leaving the vault, I mean? Anything out of the ordinary?” Rose felt herself getting frustrated.

“It’s worse than I thought. Hmm,” the robot thought aloud. “You’re suffering from… hunger-induced paranoia. Not eating properly for two hundred years will do that, I’m afraid,” he chuckled. Rose’s eyes went wide.

“Two hundred…?” her arms dropped to her sides.

“A bit over two hundred and ten, mum. Give or take a little for the Earth’s rotation and some minor dings to the ole’ chronometer,” Codsworth gestured to himself. “That means you’re two centuries late for dinner!” He laughed. “Perhaps I can whip you up a snack? You must be famished ,” the robot suggested emphatically. Rose shook her head in disbelief.

“Hey, what’s wrong with you? Are you hearing what I’m saying?” she raised her voice.

“I, I…” Codsworth stammered. “Oh, mum, it’s been just horrible!” he threw up his appendages in defeat. “Two centuries with no one to talk to, no one to serve!” his pre-programmed voice cried. “I spent the first ten years trying to keep the floors waxed, but nothing gets nuclear fallout from vinyl wood. Nothing!”

Rose frowned at him in empathy as he gestured dramatically.

“And don’t get me started about the futility of dusting a collapsed house! And the car! The car! How do you polish rust?” Codsworth was beside himself. Rose reached out to grab him on either side.

“Codsworth, focus!” she commanded.

“I’m afraid I don’t know anything, mum.,” he panted. “The bombs came, and all of you left in such a hurry. I thought for certain that you and your family were,” he paused. “Dead.”

Rose looked at the ground again. Codsworth perked up, remembering something.

“I did find this holotape,” Codsworth pulled out a small orange cartridge from a compartment on his side. “I believe Sir was going to present it to you. As a surprise. But then, well, everything happened .”

Rose looked up at him, and reached out for the tape, clutching it gently in her hands. It was faded in color but didn’t look damaged. “What’s on it?” she asked him quietly.

“I believe it’s a private message for you,” Codsworth said, straightening up. “My etiquette protocols would not permit me to play it for myself,” he stated matter-of-factly. “Any standard holotape reading device should be able to play it back. Oh! Like that Pip-Boy on your arm! That should work brilliantly,” Codsworth pointed to the brown wristwear.

“Thank you, Codsworth,” Rose uttered, hesitating before tucking the tape into her pocket.

“Of course, mum. Now, enough feeling sorry for myself! Shall we search the neighborhood together? Sir and young Shaun may turn up yet,” he suggested. Rose made a face. She might as well indulge the old bot. Maybe it would jog his memory drives.

“Codsworth, have you seen anything or anyone dangerous?” she asked with forced patience.

“Oh, just the usual, mum. Pesky neighborhood dogs and mosquitoes. Shall I investigate?”

“Mosquitoes?” she gave him a puzzled look, then shook her head. “Fine, sure, lead the way.”

“Proud to serve, mum!” Codsworth saluted her, and turned to float away. He crossed the street, and began to hum a tune. Rose followed him wordlessly.

Codsworth led her through the neighborhood as he searched the empty homes with strange dedication. Rose simply walked behind him, almost bored, trying not to trip over hazards like broken furniture, dislodged tiles, and tangles of roots between each and every possible surface. After turning up nothing in the first two houses, Rose waited for Codsworth to lead her into a third.

“Picking up hostile readings, mum!” he called to her and she stopped to brandish her security baton. She heard movement inside the house, and wandered in cautiously behind Codsworth. She just barely dodged the slimy projectile that zoomed past her head.

“Christ,” she hissed as she crouched down behind an overturned dining room table. She peeked her head up just enough to try to see the attacker.

“Peek-a-boo!” Codsworth called as he flew towards a large bug that was hovering down the hall. He swiped at it with his saw blade attachment, and its two halves fell to the ground with a splat . Rose watched with an uneasy stomach while Codsworth burned a second bug alive with his flame attachment, and smushed a third against a wall with his hammer. These bugs were different than the ones she’d seen in the Vault. A fourth bug shot another small pellet at Codsworth, but it landed on the floor in front of Rose’s cover. She looked more closely at it, watching it squirm and squeak on the floor, writhing violently before dying. Some sort of maggot? She looked back up to see Codsworth dispatch a final pair of the insects while taunting them valiantly. He floated back to her, humming more of his tune.

“Codsworth, why are all the bugs gigantic?” she asked him, trying to ignore the stinking carcasses of the giant flies.

“Oh, well, I don’t know about that,” he answered thoughtfully. “But, mum, your family isn’t here, either. They’re, they’re really gone, aren’t they?” his frame dropped in disappointment.

“Nate is… Nate is gone,” the words tasted foul. “But Shaun is out there somewhere. I know it. He has to be,” Rose clenched her teeth together to keep from crying again. “I need to find him. Codsworth, please, if you’ve seen anything suspicious, you have to tell me.”

“Not that I can recall, mum, but… What about Concord? Plenty of people there. And last I checked, they only pummeled me with sticks a few times before I had to run back home,” he said sheepishly.

“Concord?” Rose’s brow perked up. That’s only a few miles from here. She touched a knob on her Pip-Boy to wake it from its slumber. “Codsworth, can you tell me the time and date?”

“Of course. As I said, my chronometer has surely seen better days, but I estimate it to be about 1:34 PM, and October 18th, 2287.”

“2287?” Rose asked quietly. She input the time and date and the screen changed again to the main menu. She tabbed over to the Map option and set a course for Concord. “Huh,” she almost laughed. “Guess this thing still works,” she looked back to Codsworth. “Is there anything you can tell me about Concord before I leave?”

“It looks much different than you probably remember it, mum, but it’s still somewhat intact. And hopefully it’s worth a shot,” Codsworth told her as the two of them exited the abandoned home.

“Right,” Rose said as she stopped short on the lawn of what used to be her home. “Thank you, Codsworth.”

“Of course, mum. Good luck. You’ll find young Shaun. I know you will,” he sputtered off down the street again. “I shall remain here, and secure the home-front!” he shouted dutifully. Rose watched him float on down the street before turning back to look at the threshold of her dilapidated house. She took a deep breath, patting the sides of her legs in apprehension. Finally, she took a step toward the front door. The doorway was beginning to crumble, and Rose stepped through cautiously. Just like Codsworth had said, the inside was surprisingly well-maintained, apart from the wear from the passage of time. Several of the windows had been blown out, and piles of leaves had leaked in through them. The welcome mat was still plush beneath her feet, despite how faded it was. Rose walked into the kitchen, finding a tattered newspaper still sitting on the counter, along with an overturned coffee cup.

The living room was full of ruined furniture, the couches and tables barely standing on legs of rotting wood. The television sat just where it had been left, only the screen was cracked, and it had no power. The paintings and picture frames that had once hung on the walls were either crooked or had clattered to the floor. Rose reached down to recover one of the pictures, dusting it with the sleeve of her jacket, and carried it back into the kitchen with her. She pulled out one of the bar stools, testing it before putting her full weight on it. She removed the duffel bag from her shoulder and set it on the counter. Then, she retrieved her snacks from inside, and pulled the holotape from her pocket. She stared at it while she ate more stale chips, never achieving the courage to play it on the Pip-Boy. She wanted to hear Nate’s voice again more than anything, but she couldn’t afford to crumble. Not now. Concord first, then this.

Rose snacked until she had emptied one of the cans of chips. Instinctively, she tossed it into the kitchen wastebasket, feeling a little embarrassed after having done so. After a while, she got up from her chair and moseyed down the hall in a sad stupor, picking up more of the picture frames and stacking them one by one on the kitchen counter. When her work was done, she made her way into her bedroom. She tried to imagine Nate standing beside her, digging through the drawers for supplies, but it made the room they’d once shared feel even more empty. Why had she survived and not him? If nothing else, why couldn’t she be making this journey with him? She sat down on the bed, one hand stroking the threadbare comforter. The frame had collapsed in on itself and made the mattress crooked. Rose watched the dust motes float through the room. A breeze lifted the raggedy curtains on the window next to her, and she pulled Nate’s jacket closer around herself, just as she had done many an evening spent with Nate. Always the gentleman, he routinely pulled his coats or outerwear from his shoulders and drape them across Rose’s. Her stomach felt hollow and her thoughts weighed on her like nothing she’d ever felt, but no tears came. Eventually, she found herself walking around Shaun’s nursery at a snail’s pace.

The wood that made up his crib was rotting, and the paint had almost chipped off entirely, but other than that, it was still standing. Rose reached out to right the mobile that hung crooked across the musty thing, and the metal hook snapped off at the lightest touch. She tsked at the broken object in her hands, and set it down on the night table beside the crib. Rose let out a tired breath and left the room. She retrieved one of her water bottles from her duffel bag, taking several sips before pouring some out in her hand to wipe the back of her neck. Once she’d sobered up from her trance, she headed out the door and down the street.

Concord, here I come.

Chapter Text

Rose trudged down the sidewalk towards the entrance of Sanctuary Hills. She’d taken the time to search through the rest of the empty houses for more supplies before going on her way. She had ended up finding an extra box of ammo for her pistol hidden in a floor safe underneath a crumbling bed frame. The lock had only given her a bit of trouble, one of her bobby pins snapping in half just when she’d almost turned the lock completely over. Luckily though, she’d found a half-full box of them in a bathroom cabinet. The safe also housed a salisbury steak package that was completely intact, along with a box of matches and a first-aid kit. Rose tucked them carefully into the various compartments of her duffel bag and kept going.

There were signs that someone had been in one of the houses at some point, broken chairs gathered around a long-extinguished campfire, empty tin cans scattered across the floor. Rose tried to imagine a ragtag group of survivors taking shelter here in the ghost of her once-loved community, their voices playing off the walls in time with their laughter. What stories would they tell in these empty halls? What were their names? Were they the descendants of people like her, trading fables of the fateful day when the world had ended until truth became myth, and myth became legend, and so on? Would they know how dearly-held these remnants of a lost civilization had once been to those who’d dwelled in them so long ago? Rose examined an empty Nuka Cola bottle that had been left behind beside one of the chair, running her thumb along the ridges in the dusty glass. She could only imagine how well the sodas had aged over the last two hundred years.

The entrance of Sanctuary held only one surprise: the bridge that joined the neighborhood to the roadway on the other side of the river had all but collapsed. The thing was once a landmark from the revolutionary war, and was marked by a statue of a Minute Man with a plaque with information about the area. Now, though, half of the bridge had rotted away and fallen into the shallow water below. Rose reached a leg out to tap the wood with her foot carefully. She held onto the railing on the good side of the bridge, taking careful steps across. It creaked underneath her but gave her no other problems. She passed the historical Minute Man statue, which had now sunken partially into the ground on one side. The once-detailed facial features and clothing were now extremely faded and covered in green rust. Rose spotted the old Red Rocket station up ahead, and her pace quickened. The sporty red logo sat atop a tall metal post with a signboard to advertise vehicle coolant prices. In the weeks before the bombs, prices had skyrocketed, and the signboard still reflected this with what numbers still hung inside of it. Rose thought back to the angry crowds that often formed outside of Red Rockets, harassing the employees over the insane prices as if they had anything to do with them.

Rose approached the station, her hand perched on the handle of her pistol inside her jacket pocket. She looked for signs of life, but the place was quiet other than the sound of the wind in the trees. The garage door on the side of the building facing her was open, so she went in through it, and found more signs that it had been inhabited at some point. There were various tool benches lining the walls, left over from her time, but reinvented with post-apocalyptic charm. She pocketed a few of the tools lying on the tops of the counters, and rummaged through some of the drawers in a large metal shelf in the corner. She pulled from one of the drawers a container a little bigger than a sardine can, with tape wrapped around it. Rose turned the thing over to examine it, and the contents rattled inside. She tried picking at the tape with her nails, but was startled by a bark from behind her.

Rose whipped around, dropping the container and drawing her pistol and aiming it into the face of a german shepherd dog standing a few paces away from her. She trembled, causing the gun to rattle in her hands. The dog shrunk away from her slightly, tail tucked between its hind legs. It whimpered once and held eye contact with her. Rose lowered the gun slowly, her heart sinking in her chest at the sight of the dog cowering away from her. She tucked the gun into her pocket and knelt down, reaching out for the dog nervously. It cocked its head and stretched towards her to sniff her hand. A smile creased Rose’s lips when the dog moved closer to her, losing its submissive stance and perking back up.

“Hey there, pup,” she said, her voice quivering. “Where did you come from?”

The dog looked up at her and wiggled excitedly as it gave another short woof , as if to answer her. A shy laugh escaped Rose, surprising her. She scratched behind the dog’s ears, and it leaned into her hand.

“Did you lose your owner?” she asked. The dog’s ears flattened and its tongue lolled out of its mouth.

The dog’s ears perked back up and its tail wagged. It gave her another yip . Rose rubbed underneath the dog’s chin for a moment before reaching into her bag for her last can of potato crisps. She popped it open and the dog took a step toward her, nose twitching.

“They’re stale, but they’re all I’ve got. Here,” she held a couple of chips out to the dog and it inspected them briefly before gently taking the first one into its mouth. The chip crunched beneath the dog’s teeth. As it finished the second chip, Rose smiled, and put away the container as she stood up.  “Well, I guess we should stick together then.”

She’d grown up with a dog, a scruffy mutt with a mustache. Some sort of terrier mix. Just a few weeks after Rose’s mother had passed away, her father had found him on the side of the road, covered in fleas and half-starved. Rose had always been convinced it was some act of divine intervention, because the dog - her father had named him Elvis - had been hugely therapeutic for the both of them after their loss. Rose wondered if her mother was still watching over her, and had sent her yet another canine companion to look after her. Rose wiped away her tears.

This dog was bigger than Elvis, and had the signature black-and-tan saddle coat of purebred german shepherd ancestry. Rose wondered how such a bloodline could’ve lasted so long. It didn’t have a collar, but wasn’t malnourished. Someone had to be taking care of it. The dog wandered off to sniff through a pile of trash. Rose walked back to the tool shelf and retrieved the tin container. She peeled the tape away from it and pried it open. Inside, she found a collection of… bottle caps?

“What…?” Rose picked through the caps, holding a few different kinds up to her face to examine them. Most of the colors had worn off, but there were a few Nuka Cola ones scattered among the bunch. Rose stared thoughtfully at her find. It seemed bizarre, but someone had gone to the trouble of packing them up and hiding them. Finally, Rose closed the box and tucked it safely into her duffel bag. She wandered through the rest of the shop, finding an old can of Cram on one of the back shelves, and a Stimpak in the cabinet above the sink in the store’s shabby bathroom. The place was filthy, even for a two hundred-something-year-old gas station. Old tires and vehicle parts were piled in several corners of the store, and the employees-only backroom was littered with trash and paperwork. There was a terminal on a metal desk against the far wall. Rose found a pocket knife in one of the desk drawers, but little else she would’ve found useful. She sat down at the desk to peruse the terminal entries. Mostly service logs of various vehicles that had brought in for an oil change, or a mysterious sound coming from the engine. One entry was different, however.

 

Jim,

Take care of these barrels before you leave tonight - inspectors are coming first thing in the morning.

 

Just hide them with the others. We'll figure out a longer-term solution later.

 

Hey, if nature's going to favor us with a cave right below the shop, who am I to argue?

 

Rose’s eyebrows pinched together, and she got up from the desk and exited the building through the back door. She found two broken down vending machines and a makeshift cooking pit that had been abandoned long ago. It even had a spit. Empty, of course. She walked around to the edge of the hill upon which the building sat, and searched for signs of the cave that the terminal entry had mentioned. After a moment, she spotted some strange, green, glowing mushrooms, and followed the trail down the slope. Sure enough, she stumbled upon a person-sized opening in the side of the hill. More of the illuminated morels were sprouting from the ground around the entrance, like crooked, spongy teeth. The dog trotted down the hill to find her, and stood at her side, sniffing the ground around the cave. Rose stuck her security baton into the overgrowth of roots that hung like a curtain over the entrance, and peered inside. It was pitch dark, save for the soft yellow-green light that dotted nearly every surface of the cave. Rose looked down at her Pip-Boy, examining the various switches on the side. She pressed each one, hoping for a flashlight of some sort, and accidentally blinded herself when she found the right button. She blinked several times to clear her vision before shining the bright light into the cavern. She hesitated before taking a few trembling steps inside. The dog crept along beside her for a few paces, but then she heard it start growling. Rose looked down at her new canine friend, her eyes wide with fear. The dog was looking straight ahead, ears flattened, a menacing growl rumbling from its throat. Without warning, it lunged ahead of Rose, prowling quickly down the tunnel. She hesitated, flustered, before she awkwardly clambered down the passage after the dog. The sound of the dog barking furiously lit her nerves on fire. Something further into the cave squealed loudly, angrily, and the dog whimpered once before Rose heard a loud thunk followed by another squeal and a terrible squelching sound. Rose pulled the pistol from her coat pocket and kept following the light from her Pip-Boy until the tunnel opened up into a larger cave, walls aglow with even more of the tiny fungi, and she stopped short.

The dog was battling a handful of what looked like cat-sized, wrinkled and deformed molerats. The dog had just ripped one of the ugly things’ throats right from its body, blood staining the fur around its face. It whirled to face a mole that was now pouncing towards it, and Rose reflexively aimed her gun at one of the moles. She squeezed the trigger and missed her first shot by mere inches, and two of the rats turned and screeched at her. Their eyes glowed in the light of her Pip-Boy, and their faces were pale. Gnarled teeth jutted forth from too-small mouths, and one of them began to burrow into the ground while the other one started scampering towards Rose. She aimed down the sights of her pistol again, trying her best to follow along with the movements of the giant rodent as it got closer to her, and she fired again out of panic, but this time she caught the thing in its side and it squealed loudly, but did not slow. Rose clumsily grabbed for her security baton in her bag as the molerat leapt at her, but she couldn’t pull it out in time, and the creature’s crude teeth came down on her left leg close to her ankle. Rose cried out in pain, falling backwards against a wall. She kicked a few times, trying to free her leg from the grip of the mole, but she was unsuccessful. Then she aimed the gun at the thing’s head and fired. The shot rang out, coupled with the dying wail of the mole as it released its grip from Rose’s leg, blood splashing onto the floor and onto Rose’s Vault uniform and left boot. She limped away from the rat’s carcass, glancing around for the others. The dog had already dispatched two more of the vile creatures, but the final rodent was nowhere to be seen. A sudden, loud smashing noise from Rose’s left startled her, and she drew down her weapon again, this time aiming at the head of the final molerat that was now half-exposed from a burrow in the ground. It writhed violently, trying to free itself from the dirt, and Rose fired twice, her first shot hitting the wall behind the rat, and the second catching the creature in its right shoulder. It screeched, blood leaking from its wound, and Rose watched the dog advance on the rat. It snarled before clamping down on the thing’s neck and shaking it violently back and forth until its neck broke, just as it had done to the others. Rose’s stomach turned as she looked down at the bleeding holes in her Vault suit. She leaned against the wall for support as she limped out of the cave, hissing whenever she put weight on her injured leg. The dog tagged along beside her, panting.

Once outside, Rose lumbered over to a fallen tree just a few feet from the cave entrance. She took a seat and lifted her leg up to examine the severity of her injury. She was trembling, her nerves shot. Had the bombs somehow caused this trend of nearly every pest being vicious giants of their former selves? It was an exterminator’s worst nightmare. Blood oozed slowly from the two puncture wounds on her outer left shin. The holes were about an inch deep. Unsure of what to do, Rose made herself take deep breaths, sticking a shaky hand into her duffel bag to retrieve a can of water. She opened it and took a couple of sips before holding it out over her injury. Her hand shook considerably as she tried to force herself pour it over the wound, but her trembling caused water to splash onto it before she was ready, and she winced as she let out a hushed whimper. The dog sat on the ground beside the log, head cocked to the side as Rose lamented about her injury. She tugged at the collar of her jacket, biting down on it and turning her head away as she made herself pour more water over the punctures. Her cry was muffled by the fabric of the coat, and her leg recoiled automatically from the water. Rose looked back at her leg, the blood washing out of the wounds. Rose huffed, tears rolling down her cheeks. The dog inched closer to her, trying to sniff her wound. Rose waved the pup away with her free hand and the dog whimpered before backing off. After a moment, Rose dug through her bag once more, remembering the stimpak she’d picked up earlier. She examined the clunky syringe, equipped with a small meter on top of the plunger, the two ends of the plunger connected to the meter by small wires. She turned the thing over and over, looking for instructions, but there were none. She’d never used one personally, but Nate had talked about them frequently when he would tell war stories, and they were available by prescription from doctors on some occasions. A real-world miracle cure for everyday injuries, and sometimes more severe ones.

Rose took a deep breath and removed the plastic cap, testing the plunger to see if it worked, and a clear liquid spurted from the needle. She moved her left foot out in front of herself so she could take off her boot and roll up the leg of her Vault suit up over her wound. She took a deep breath before carefully peeling the meshy fabric up and over the two gashes. She groaned in pain and frustration as she worked, but finally her upper ankle was exposed. She hesitated while deciding where exactly to stick the shot, but finally just stuck it in her skin between the two gashes. She pushed down the plunger until it was all the way down and she felt the medicine start to course through her leg. The sensation was unlike anything she’d ever experienced. It was like drinking water after a long day of working in a field. She removed the stimpak from her leg and stuffed it back into a small pocket in her bag. She placed her hands on the tree and slid down off of it slowly, coming to rest on the ground with her back up against it. She stretched out her injured leg and brought the other one up close so she could rest her chin on her knee.

She sat there for a moment, listening to the world around her. She looked over at the dog when she heard it sigh dramatically. It had laid down beside her with its head on its paws. It glanced at Rose every now and then, its small brows jumping up. Its fur was still caked with blood from their fight with the molerats. Rose perked up and so did the dog. She grabbed a handkerchief from her bag, along with her water, and poured some onto the rag.

“Come here,” she clucked her tongue at the dog and it rose from its spot to approach her. Rose turned slightly so she could better reach the dog, and she took hold of its neck fur gently so that she could start scrubbing at the dried blood. To her surprise, the dog stood there and let her bathe it with no problem. She would have to give it a full-on bath to get everything clean, but she did what she could, and when she was done, most of the blood had been soaked up by the rag.

“Good dog,” Rose said, scratching behind the pooch’s ear once more. It yawned and laid back down, but this time flush with her left leg, its head resting on her thigh. Rose stroked the pup’s head a few more times. She turned her foot to the side to look at the punctures and they had stopped bleeding. The pain had also quieted considerably, but she figured she should give it a little more time before continuing onward. Concord’s city center was still a couple of miles away, and according to her Pip-Boy, it was already almost 3 PM. Rose shook her head. Time was going by faster than she’d thought. She didn’t want to be out in the dark if she didn’t have to be, but after her encounter with the molerats, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to meet the residents of Concord.

Rose spent the next 20 minutes keeping herself entertained by getting to know her Pip-Boy a little better. She knew they were capable of a lot, but she wanted to figure out what all she could use it for. She pulled up the map feature first, registering the Red Rocket as a location so that she could come back to it later. She glanced up at the cave entrance, wondering if she should try to go back inside and search for supplies. The sun was high in the sky, and just starting to head for the horizon. She decided against it in favor of going to Concord.

She flipped through several of the other menu options, and found a rather in-depth inventory system that would allow her to keep track of her belongings. She took a few minutes to tally her supplies, then moved on to another tab.

“Radio?” She asked aloud as she explored the option further. She flipped the radio switch to ON and instantly heard a quiet static start murmuring from a speaker on the Pip-Boy. She began scanning through the frequencies, and her mouth dropped open when she started to hear a scrambled song. She fine-tuned it to get to the station fully, and the melody came in perfectly clear.

 

the one who is waiting for you will prove untrue

Then what will I do?

 

Maybe you’ll sit and sigh,

Wishing that I were near

Then maybe you’ll ask me to come back again

And maybe I’ll say maybe …

 

Rose listened to the song play out, awestruck. She turned the volume up slightly with one of the other knobs, grinning at the dog, who had perked its head up to inspect the music coming from her wrist.

“This is the Ink Spots, baby,” she laughed. “Waaaaay before your time,” she uttered, looking back to the Pip-Boy screen as the song ended.

“That was The Ink Spots, coming to YOU from, uh…” a young man’s voice trailed off on the radio. “The jewel green! I mean, uh, heh, I mean, the Great Green Jewel of the Commonwealth. It’s, heh, Diamond City Radio!” Rose looked at her Pip-Boy incredulously. Was this a recording still being broadcast somehow? If that was the case, then what was Diamond City? Rose felt empty. She knew Codsworth had said that there were people in Concord, but could there be people living, surviving all over? Broadcasting their own apocalyptic radio shows? Hearing the boy’s voice made her feel strange. It felt like ages since she’d heard another person speak. She thought back to the last human words that had been spoken to her.

The man in the leather armor. His scarred eye. His cruel face. Rose powered off the radio and looked down at her ankle. She almost gasped at the sight of her injury, now almost a ghost of itself. There were thick scabs covering the punctures, and her leg felt fine to move. Though the scabs were slightly discolored and were almost puckering, she rolled the leg of her Vault suit back down and laced up her boot. She then stood up cautiously and tested her weight before taking a few steps. She could walk just fine, which meant she could keep going. Concord first, then I’ll figure out what Diamond City is, she thought. The dog sat up and wagged its tail at her with its head cocked to the side.

“Let’s go, pal,” she said, pulling her duffel bag across her body once more before turning to head back up the hill and towards the ruined highway beside Red Rocket. The dog barked, seemingly in agreement, and walked beside her.

Chapter Text

Rose trudged down the road towards Concord, her canine companion at her side. She thought back to the day she’d found her home; she’d been so excited because it was right outside of Concord, right between a Vault-in-construction and a fueling station, close to the city school; a choice location to build a family. She scoffed to herself when the thought dawned on her: she’d never have to pay the rest of her mortgage. She’d never have to pay another electric bill.

She frowned. She wished she could hear what Nate would say about that. One good thing about a nuclear war is that we’re no longer in debt! She imagined him saying. She cleared her throat and quickened her pace slightly.

Concord was a relatively small city, but you could still see it from the Red Rocket station. It felt farther to walk there than to drive, but Rose was making good time. She had to keep an eye out for holes and overgrown roots in the ruined tarmac, but that was no big deal. She examined the landscape around her: overturned trees, cracked concrete, piles of rust that used to be 18-wheelers or pedestrian vehicles, some of them crashed into street lamps or one another. She had to make herself look away from a badly decomposed skeleton that was in the driver’s seat of a car she passed.

Once closer to the city, she could see that the buildings that were still standing were clearly on their last legs. Most of them were slouching unevenly, wood rotting, metal corroding, paint sun-bleached and chipping. A lot of roofs had caved in, collapsing the rest of their buildings entirely, resulting in random piles of rubble. The dog barked, an alert bark, and Rose looked in front of her. Something was lying in the road up ahead. She stretched her neck out to see better, to no avail, and slowed down. It was a large, reddish heap, and she could smell it from where she was standing. Her face wrinkled up in reaction to the odor of decay, and she pulled the collar of her Vault suit up over her nose. Then, something on the carcass twitched before ascending up into the air. Rose half-hopped backwards, startled. The dog had started snarling, so she pulled out her pistol and aimed it at the floating objects without a second thought. They were moving closer to her now, and she could see that they were a couple of very large bugs, but this time different from the ones she’d seen in the Vault and back at Sanctuary Hills. Then she realized. Codsworth hadn’t been talking about regular mosquitoes. Of course not.

The sound of their wings buzzing got louder as they approached, and Rose felt her body rush with fear at the sight of the gigantic proboscises protruding from their heads. She squeezed the trigger and the dog lunged forward towards the insects.

She’d successfully hit the one she’d been aiming at, and it dropped in altitude just enough that the dog had been able to jump up and grab it between its jaws. It then started shaking it violently, like it had done to the molerats. The dog then tossed the bug to the ground and started to rip its wings from its body. Rose winced, turning her focus to the second mosquito, which was now headed straight for her at a faster pace. Its wings hummed angrily, and it was rearing up to attack. Rose aimed quickly, firing another shot, if nothing else then for warning, but the thing dodged to the side. She then retrieved her security baton and swatted at it when it got too close for comfort. On contact with Rose’s weapon, the bug’s wing was crippled and it lowered unevenly in the air. She hit it again and it fell to the ground, doing its best to try again and attack her. Rose hopped backward to keep its proboscis from piercing her leg, then with all her might she stomped her boot down onto it, once, twice, three times until all that was left was a twitching pile of bug guts. She panted, trying to catch her breath while a deep shiver wracked her body. God, I hate bugs. S he stepped over the corpse of the mosquito warily, and approached the dog, who had already finished off the other one. Rose patted it on the head and the dog wagged its tail at her.

“Good dog,” she sighed in exhaustion. She returned her baton to her bag and turned to keep going down the road. She slowly approached the heap that the mosquitoes had come from, and had to cover her nose again. She had to suppress a gag when she got closer. It was the carcass of some kind of cow. Only this one bore a second head. Its skin was reddish, completely absent of fur, and covered in blemishes, like it had been sunburnt and never healed. Rose shooed her canine companion away from the rotting flesh, and continued toward the city.

Concord held only silence and abandoned homes, and the closer to the city’s center that Rose got, the more disconcerted she found herself. Where were the people Codsworth had mentioned? Rose stopped in her tracks, finally noticing the leaden feeling that had started in her limbs. The sun was already starting to set, and she could feel exhaustion setting in. She could only imagine what kinds of creatures would be loose in the dark, if any. She didn’t want to take that risk. She glanced around as she weighed her options, and her gaze landed on a tiny old townhouse across the street.

Crossing the cracked pavement, she whistled to get the attention of the dog who had wandered off a ways down the street. It perked its head up from sniffing through a pile of rubble, and barked once before plodding over to meet Rose. She praised it with a pat on its head before trying the door knob on the house. Locked. Of course. The front windows were covered by something on the inside, probably boarded up, so she checked her surroundings before kneeling down to pick the lock on the front door. It offered slight resistance, probably due to lack of use and rust buildup, but Rose was able to pop it open after a couple of tries. She heard the telltale click of the lock, and stood back up, turning the knob only to find that the door refused to budge. She pressed her other hand flat against the rotting wood of the door, and pushed firmly, huffing in frustration. They must’ve boarded this up too. She took a few steps back, putting her dominant foot in front of her and readying her stance to kick the thing down. She recalled one of Nate’s many survival lessons:

“I know you can pick a locked door, Rose, but you need to know how to kick one down, too, just in case. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, and leave enough space between your front foot and the door so that you can touch your foot flat to the door while still bending your knee.”

Rose tested that distance, giving a few quick practice feints with her foot.

“Always kick the door on the opposite side of the hinges, near the lock, and only kick either above or below the door handle. Plant your back foot firmly, lean into the kick just slightly, and let your foot land flat on the door.”

Rose wondered if her husband’s advice would still work on a door that had been nailed shut as she exhaled slowly before giving the door her first kick. The door cracked quietly against her booted foot, but it would take more than one. She reminded herself that both the wood and the nails holding it closed were probably so old that they wouldn’t offer much protection any more, so she readied herself for another attempt.

Crack! The door swung open and Rose stumbled forward into the threshold of the house, laughing in surprise. When Nate had taught her this, she’d hoped she’d never have to use it. Now, she was glad he’d taught her. She looked down at the wedding ring on her finger and smiled, thanking him in her head. The sound of something moving above her pulled her attention back to the house. She looked up, watching dust fall down through the upstairs floorboards as something seemed to be moving around. The sudden sensation of the dog brushing against her leg as it entered the house startled her, and she gasped quietly, sidestepping away from it. After a moment, she leaned to the side to see more of the interior of the home. It was covered in dust, and empty tin cans and food scraps, along with rotting furniture littering the floor, but it was otherwise undisturbed. Her canine companion inspected the area nonchalantly, not even realizing it had startled her.

“Hello?” she called out, glancing around nervously. The movement upstairs stopped abruptly. Rose instantly froze where she stood, listening for a response. She heard the steps start back up, and the dust filtering through the floorboards was now falling closer and closer in the direction of the staircase. She reached for her pistol.

“Hello, I’m -” she stammered. “My name’s Rose, I’m just looking for my son,” she called. “Please, I just need help -” she stopped and her body went cold. The dog prowled over to her, placing its body in a defense stance between her and the figure that was now floundering its way down the stairs. A deep growl rumbled in the dog’s throat, its hackles and tail raised. The hair on the back of Rose’s neck stood on end. She heard an uneven ticking sound and looked down at the Pip-Boy on her arm to see the built-in Geiger counter giving a small reading. She found herself unable to move, unable to even breathe as she watched two gangly, decomposed legs carry a twitching humanoid form down each of the steps. She heard a gurgle burst forth from its throat, its eyes glowing in the dimness of the room. Streaks of sunset streamed through the slits of the boarded-up windows, catching on the figure to show its ugly appearance more clearly. The dog’s snarl deepened and its head lowered, as if ready to pounce. The dog’s scattered barks grabbed the attention of the thing on the stairs, and it let out a soggy screech before breaking into a full-sprint towards Rose and her companion. She could barely register its erratic movements in the dark, and she could only watch as her four-legged friend bounded towards the creature. Her heart raced but she couldn’t make herself move. She just stood there and watched, her mind’s wheels refusing to turn.

The dog collided with the creature, leaping up to knock it to the floor before clamping down on its leg and wriggling violently. The creature shrieked angrily, swatting at the dog with its deformed arms. One of its blows struck the dog in the face and it shrunk back with a whimper. Rose’s fear turned to anger and she felt her body turn to liquid fire as she drew down on the creature with her gun and fired three shots at its torso. The vile thing squirmed upon impact, trying unsuccessfully to rise from the ground. The dog had ahold of its ankle, and Rose moved closer to it. It swatted at her, unable to reach, and she looked into its eyes before squeezing the trigger twice more. The creature collapsed to the floor in a heap, its body twitching a few more times as the puddle of its blood filled a little more. She didn’t have time to relish in her victory before another attacker was on her; she whirled around just in time to see another deformed humanoid figure careening towards her. It tackled her to the floor, clawing at her face as fluid dripped from its gaping jaws and from a hole in its throat onto Rose. Rose held her arms up over her face and cried out in short, panicked shrieks, her head turned to the side. She opened her eyes and saw her gun on the floor across the room. She heard her dog barking once more, and it pounced onto the creature, pulling on the thing’s arm, trying to separate it from Rose. Rose let out a bellow of pain and rebellion and pushed with all her strength to fight the creature off. She managed to throw it off to the side and crawl away on her hands and knees to retrieve her gun. The dog held onto the creature’s arm as it tried to follow behind Rose, angry sounds gurgling up from its throat. Rose grabbed her pistol and kept crawling until she hit a wall and turned to throw her back against it, aiming at the monster and crying out as she pulled the trigger over and over, even after her successful hits had caused it to collapse to the floor, and the gun only clicked in response to its magazine being emptied. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she cried in panicked gasps, dropping her pistol to the floor and rummaging quickly through her duffel bag for another magazine. Her trembling hands found what they were looking for, but she was so shaky that she was unable to reload her weapon. She groaned through gritted teeth in frustration, her tremors deepening when she took in the sight of her arms. The sleeves of her jacket had been torn through in several places, all the way through the Vault suit and to her skin. Her arms were a mess of cuts, the wounds burning just enough to be bothersome. A snout nosed its way into her hand and she felt a tongue lapping at her palm. She looked up into the eyes of her canine companion who was now on his way into lying across her lap with his head in her arms.

This caused Rose to cry even more, to the point of hiccups, but the dog laid still as she slowly ran her hands through his fur. They stayed like that until she calmed down, her breathing eventually returning to normal as the streams of light through the windows shifted to steeper angles. She turned her head to look out front door. The sunlight was fading fast. She would have to stay here for the night, and she didn’t want to be stumbling around in the dark. She shifted gently, trying to rouse her legs, for they’d fallen asleep. The dog perked his head up at her, and, sensing she was ready to get up, rose from his spot in her lap and stretched out his legs. Rose stood up slowly, taking gentle steps to rid the pins-and-needles from her legs. She looked at the bodies on the floor from afar and realized now that they were stinking up the whole place. She took a deep breath through her mouth and again pulled her Vault suit over her nose before going over to the closest corpse.

She stuck her foot out and nudged its leg, and after she was satisfied that it wouldn’t move, she stepped closer and shone her Pip-Boy light down at it, noticing once more the sound of her Geiger counter spiking up slightly. She gagged at the sight of the sunken, pallid skin barely clinging to the creature’s bones, its flesh rancid and oozing. Was this… a person? Was this what happened to people who had been exposed to the radiation? She felt sick and had to look away. Still, she didn’t want the bodies in the house while she was staying there, so she took another deep breath before grabbing the body by its ankles, and heaving it towards the door. Thankfully, it was so malnourished that it didn’t weigh too much, but by the time she’d dragged it out onto the sidewalk, she felt a little light-headed. She caught her breath for a moment before dragging the second body outside. She wiped her hands off on her pants legs furiously. The corpses’ skin was cold and damp, and Rose heard her Geiger counter spike up every time she got close to them. She studied them for a moment before heading back into the house.

They were mostly naked, and what little clothing was left was severely torn and hanging off their rotten bodies. Their faces were extremely disfigured as well as the rest of them; their jaws had completely sunken into the meat of their necks, their ears and noses seemed like they’d corroded away into nothing, and there was no body hair to speak of except for rare stringy strands poking out of odd places. She looked down at the hands of the one that had jumped on her, realizing that they were no longer human-looking, but rather, mostly sections of metacarpals sticking out through the skin to form claw-like digits. She shivered and returned to the house, closing the door behind her and locking it. She glanced around the room and decided to push a crumpled armchair in front of the door, just in case. She figured if there was anything else in the house, it would’ve revealed itself after the original commotion of her battle with the… what should she even call them? Zombies? She remembered the exaggerated features of the living dead from one of her comic books when she was a kid. Green-skinned, sluggish humans whose sunken eyes had rolled back in their heads, arms outstretched, hungry for brains. Those things outside were much worse than zombies, but it was the closest name she could think of for them.

She retrieved her pistol and duffel bag from the floor, reloading her weapon before rummaging briefly through the various cabinets and containers on the first floor of the house. She turned up largely unsuccessful, aside from a roll of duct tape, and a packet of bubble gum which she left where she found. It was probably hard as a rock, and would only make her hungrier. Her dog followed her as she ascended the steps cautiously. Once she had cleared every room - a master bedroom and master bathroom, and a guest room - she set to work making herself a suitable spot to rest. She pulled the mattress from its crooked bed frame in the master bedroom, and placed it in the middle of the floor. She pulled several threadbare items of clothing from the closet and chest-of-drawers, and laid them across the mattress, buttons-down. She tried to fluff the throw pillows that rested on a small armchair in the corner of the room, but they were so filled with dust mites that they created a cloud of debris and she just had to toss them down the stairs. Coughing and waving the cloud away, she set her duffel bag down beside her makeshift bed and headed to the bathroom to relieve herself and to look for more salvageables. When she passed her reflection in the cracked bathroom mirror, it pulled her up short.

She reached up to tuck a few loose strands of her dark red hair behind her ear. Her eye makeup was so smudged that it looked like she’d essentially dunked her face into a puddle of melted mascara. She instinctively reached to turn on the sink, but when she did so, nothing happened. Instead she retrieved her container of water from her bag and poured a little onto the sleeve of her jacket and wiped gently at her face to wash up. Her eyes were swollen from crying, and her cheeks were flushed underneath the freckles that dappled her face. She pulled open the mirror’s cabinet and found a hairbrush with some blonde hairs in it. She thought about the creature outside, the one that had tackled her, and the loose strands of pink fabric that had clung to its body. Rose closed her eyes and took a deep, staggered breath before she set to work on removing the braid from her hair. She tucked her hair tie around her wrist before gently brushing the tangles from her locks. They hung like a long curtain across her upper body. She ran her fingers through her bangs, pushing them back behind her ears, then she gathered all her hair to the back of her head and twisted it up into a bun. Her bangs fell forward onto her forehead, but she didn’t bother with pinning them out of the way. She stared at herself for a little longer before leaving the room.

In the master bedroom, the dog had already settled into a spot on the mattress. Rose removed her jacket before lying down so she could use it as a blanket. She sat down on the cot, pondering whether or not to take off her boots. It was getting pretty chilly, so she decided to leave them on. She settled onto her makeshift bed, tossing and turning over and over to get comfortable. It wasn’t ideal, but she figured it was better than the floor. Finally, she let out a sigh as she found a good spot, and snuggled into her jacket. The dog crawled closer to her after a minute, so that its body was flesh with hers. She reached out an arm to wrap around him, stroking his fur softly, thankful that he seemed to know exactly what she needed. Rose let her body sink into the bed, and finally realized how tired she was. Her body ached, and her mind began to wander to thoughts of missing children and disfigured wildlife, but her eyes drifted closed, and she succumbed to sleep.

The night grew colder, but she and the dog kept each other warm. Her dreams, though mostly hazy, were otherwise filled with images of her family’s life before the bombs. Nate’s disembodied voice floated around her, but then it shifted into that of the man who’d killed him.

At least we still have the backup. It repeated itself over and over, eventually fading into a drip, drip, drip, that was filling a pool of blood that reflected the cruel man’s image. Rose felt herself grasping for her gun, trying desperately to find it, but her arms refused to cooperate. Then, the man’s reflection began to laugh at her, and she heard a warped version of the Vault’s security alarm blaring faintly in her ears. Something was touching her face repeatedly as she tried to ignore the low buzzing of the alarm.

 

Chapter Text

Rose rolled over, her eyes blinking open. She reached up to stop the sensation on her face, but realized that it was the dog, licking her face. She patted him on the head and shooed him away gently.

“I’m up, I’m up,” she groaned. “What’s wrong?” she asked after clearing her throat. The dog whimpered before moving to stand over by one of the windows, cocking his head at her. Rose let her eyes adjust in the darkness, checking her Pip-boy for the time. The bright green light caused her to squint. 3:22 AM. She’d forgotten to take the thing off before going to bed, but realized it had blocked some of the damage to her arm in her fight with the zombie. She then realized that she could still hear the echo of the warped Vault alarm system. Or… something else? Rose sat still, listening intently. She could hear… gunshots. And a loud buzz every now and then. She donned her jacket again, rising from her spot on the mattress and rubbing her arms to stay warm. She approached the window the dog was standing by, and stood on her tiptoes to look through a crack between two planks of wood that had been nailed across it. It was pitch dark except for what was illuminated by the night sky, and she scanned as far as she could see through the tiny crack. Right before she was about to give up, she saw a bright red light, accompanied by the loud buzz, shine and then fade out between some buildings down the street. It happened again and again, offset by the sound of more gunshots, and some faint yelling. Rose pulled up the map on her Pip-Boy and scrolled to see a view of the street in the direction of the shots.

Must be coming from close to the museum, she thought. She scratched under the dog’s chin before going back to the mattress to gather her belongings. She pulled her gun from underneath her pillow and stared at it. What if they were fighting something and needed help? Or what if they were hostile? She could use the cover of darkness to her advantage to scope out the commotion, but should she risk it, or just wait until morning?

Rose slung her duffel bag over her shoulder and headed carefully down the stairs. She would go. Hell or high water, she would go. She stepped carefully through the dark house, guided by scarce flickers of moonlight creeping through the boarded up windows. She found her way to the front door, moved the chair back just enough so she could get through the front door, and peeked her head out, glancing left and right before stepping out onto the sidewalk.

The night was dark, and so she stepped carefully towards the source of the gunshots, guided by the reflection of the moon on different surfaces. As she made her way, she checked her map frequently, and checked to make sure the dog was still with her. Eventually, the pair of them reached an intersection at what her map indicated was Main Street. She crept alongside the buildings and poked her head around the corner, finding that there were still a couple of street lights illuminating the front of the museum. The sound of the shootout carried on, and she could see figures darting to and fro between storefronts and cars, their gunshots lighting their faces for a split second. Rose heard the loud buzz again, accompanied by the red light, and noticed that it had been a laser blast, fired from the front balcony of the museum. It had hit one of the figures running through the street. The person cried out in pain and fell to the ground, flickers of red light burning into the flesh of their upper body. Rose smelled burning flesh.

She strained to get a closer look at the figure firing from the balcony, but it was too dark and too far away for her to get a good look. Someone had gone to the side of the person stricken by the laser blast and was attempting to drag them out of the street and presumably into cover, but the wounded party continued to wail in agony, which seemed to agitate the helper.

“Dammit, Kip, shut up!” the helper shouted in a gravelly voice, trying again to move the person’s body out of the line of fire. Rose could barely make them out, their bodies covered in scraps of what must’ve been leather armor. She looked down at the dog when she heard him growling quietly. She felt her chest thrumming in fear that the dog would give away their position, and grabbed him by the scruff of his neck just before he lunged towards the pair in the street.

“No!” she hissed. The dog quieted slightly, his ears flattening to his head. The laser charged up and fired again, this time catching the fallen person in the leg, which caused it to separate from his body. Rose looked away in horror, covering her mouth with her free hand as she let out panicked breaths. She heard screaming from both people, and looked back in time to see the wounded man die from blood loss. The second man bellowed in anger and began exchanging bullets with the figure on the balcony as he carefully sprinted back towards cover. This seemed to agitate the dog, who was now barking and trying to escape from Rose’s grasp.

“What the hell is that?”

Rose heard a voice shout from up ahead, and she tried desperately to pull the dog back behind the corner, but she wasn’t strong enough, and she had to let him go. He barrelled after the man who was retreating, and Rose heard the voice speak up again.

“Hey! Get that stupid mutt!” the owner of the voice commanded as two more figures ran out from behind a bus after the dog.

Shit! Rose hesitated for a moment before pulling out her pistol and jogging after them. She saw one of them take aim at the dog, and before she knew it, she had fired her pistol at them and missed. The two figures turned around, one of them cursing in surprise, and began firing back at Rose. A shot whirred past her head, and she ducked so hard that she almost fell down, and scrambled to make it into one of the open buildings beside her. After crouching behind an old restaurant counter, she tried to control her rapid breathing, but her hands were shaking again as she footsteps of her pursuers got closer. She heard one of them speak up.

“I guess those civvies called for backup,” one of them laughed cruelly.

“Hey! Just make it easier for everybody and come out! We know you’re in here!” the other one said, and the two of them laughed.

Anger boiled in Rose’s chest, and she huffed a quiet breath of determination before poking her head up enough to see over the counter. Her pursuers were skulking around the old house, facing away from her. She stood up and fired at one of them. Three shots, all of them catching the man in the back, causing him to tumble to the ground before he even knew what hit him. The other man turned, startled, and gave an angry grunt at the sight of his fallen compatriot. He was only armed with what looked like a baseball bat, and he rushed towards Rose. She fired at him but missed due to his quick movement, and he swatted her gun out of her hands and then struck her in the abdomen with the bat. She slumped over as all the air left her lungs, but she retrieved her baton, and swung at the attacker with all of her might, catching him in the head with a significant crack . He stumbled backward, and Rose swiped at him again and again, the first of her blows blocked by the bat, but the second knocking the man off-balance. She then endeavored a successful, swift kick to the man’s groin, causing him to groan in pain as he fell to the ground while clutching at his crotch. He kicked at Rose’s legs as she moved to retrieve her gun, and she fell sideways against the counter, but she hastily picked her gun off the floor and whirled back on her attacker, who had crawled after her. The man was on her again, this time shoving her against the wall, taking hold of her arms, and trying to wrestle the gun from her grasp. She struggled against him, finally squeezing down on the trigger, causing the gun to discharge a round that whizzed past his head, stunning him just enough that Rose could regain control of the weapon completely. She fired two shots into his abdomen, causing him to fall to the ground in a heap, body convulsing as he coughed and blood spurted up from his mouth. Rose nearly tripped over him as she tried to distance herself from the scene. Her ears rang. The smell of gunpowder and blood mixed, and she felt as if she could feel the earth moving beneath her.

She stumbled across the floor of the dilapidated diner, finally falling into a broken chair, panting as she stared at the bodies of the men she had killed. She had to suppress the urge to vomit. It was self-defense, right? She argued with herself as she stared at the dead men lying in puddles of their own blood. Voices outside the restaurant snapped her back to the moment and she jumped up from her seat and retrieved the baseball bat from the floor before taking off through the rest of the place in search of an exit.

“Those gunshots came from in here!” a voice called out. Rose crouched down against a wall in an adjacent room, trying to breathe silently.

“What the - damn it! Spread out!” a second voice called out. No doubt they’d found the bodies. Rose crept through the room towards a backdoor that was barely clinging to the building by its hinges. She nudged it open slowly, creating a small opening, and side-stepped through it.

She crept quietly away from the building at first, making her way carefully down the back alley, but her pace quickened as thoughts of her pursuers pushed her forward. Then, she heard the familiar bark of her canine companion somewhere up ahead, and she tore off after the sound. She rounded a corner back onto Main Street, and saw the dog locked in a battle with another one of the group’s members. The man was cursing violently and swatting at the dog with his gun as he tried to break free of the dog’s grip on his forearm. Rose saw another body on the ground next to them, a woman whose throat was completely torn open, part of her flesh radiating with the red sparks from the laser beam. Rose exhaled and knit her eyebrows together, tightening her grip on the baseball bat.

Her feet propelled her toward the man who was struggling with the dog, and she prepared to swing, but the sound of the laser charging again stopped her in her tracks just before she could reach him. She closed her eyes and waited. This was it.

The sound of the blast burned through the night, but Rose did not feel its effects. Instead, the man in front of her screamed out in pain, and she opened her eyes just in time to see him stumble sideways, red light sparkling from a sizable wound in his shoulder. She took the opportunity to charge towards him again, and this time the bat made contact with his head when she swung it. The man collided with the ground, unconscious, and the dog let go of his arm, and returned to Rose, tail wagging. She knelt down to him, distracted by a small abrasion above one of his eyes.

“Hey! You!”

Rose whipped her head around, trying to find the source of the voice calling to her.

“Up here! On the balcony!”

Her eyes found the figure up on the Museum of Freedom’s balcony, to whom the voice belonged. The man was waving to her with his free hand, the other holding onto a large weapon that was glowing with a dim, red light at the tip.

“Please, we need your help! I have a group of settlers inside, and the raiders are almost through the door! Grab that laser musket and help us, please!” The man’s desperate, deep voice echoed down the street, and sent Rose towards the ornate double doors at the front of the museum. The dog followed her closely, scratching and barking at one of the doors when the two of them reached the steps. She found the weapon the man had mentioned lying on the ground beside the body of another person, this one garbed in what looked like Period clothing from the museum itself. She grabbed the clunky rifle, unsure of what to make of it, and cautiously headed inside the building.

The interior of the once-esteemed Museum of Freedom was now just a broken remnant of itself. As Rose stepped inside, she could see that part of the roof had caved in just above the foyer, which had resulted in piles of scrap all through the entryway. She remembered what it had looked like before the bombs, having visited on several occasions throughout her life. The museum director must be rolling in his grave, she thought as she took in the sight of the frowning metal gates that hung in the small threshold leading to the museum’s main floor. A faded mural of two smiling founding fathers still covered the wall above the gateway, and above them stood the balcony of the second floor.

Rose approached the main gate, but it was locked with a heavy chain and padlock. She peered through the gate, trying to see further into the building, but it was too dark. She turned, with a sigh, and headed towards the right side of the room, where she knew the Museum Tour exhibits started. She heard it before she entered the room: a startling, defiant proclamation by an American soldier, playing over the worn-out loudspeakers.

“No more British occupation! Back to England with you!”

The sight of the mannequins pointing fake muskets at each other would’ve been funny, if the whole place hadn’t felt so haunted by them. In the dim fluorescent lighting, they stood, delicately placed about the floor, casting long shadows on the walls around them. Several of them had fallen to the ground, and Rose stepped over them carefully as she moved further inside the exhibit.

“Have your tea back, jackanapes!” the voice on the loudspeaker said. Rose’s grin disappeared the moment she heard footsteps.

“Who’s there?” someone in the next room asked. Rose quickly moved to a shaded corner in the room, sidling against the wall adjacent to the doorway that led to the next room. The footsteps got closer and the dog began to snarl. She watched a figure enter the room, gun poised to fire, and she aimed her laser musket at them. The dog pounced on the person, surprising them and causing them to flail wildly. Rose steadied her aim and squeezed the trigger, but nothing happened in response. She looked the gun over, confused, before trying the crank on the side.

The man was still struggling with the dog on his arm, but he turned his head in response to the sound of Rose cranking the rifle. He shot at her with the pistol in his free hand, but his aim was unsteady, and he only managed to graze her left arm. Rose gasped at the sudden pain, then steeled herself and fired the laser musket at him, and this time, it buzzed loudly as it discharged, and made contact with the man’s chest. Rose had been startled by the recoil of the first shot and accidentally discharged a second. The man fell to the ground, taking a few of the mannequins with him. He was choking and clutching at his wounds, and Rose aimed down at him, her hands trembling. The man laughed cruelly and spit blood at her. The dog moved to attack the man again, but Rose commanded him to stop.

“You fucking coward,” he laughed at her through his pain. “Just do it already.”

Rose trembled as she stared into the man’s worn face.

“What are you doing here?” she asked him in a low voice.

“I ain’t tellin’ you shit,” he choked out.

“Who’s the person on the balcony? Why are you fighting?” she nudged the rifle closer to his face. He laughed at her again.

“Who cares,” he rasped. “Buncha pathetic civvies… we’re only after the old lady who can see the future.”

Rose narrowed her brows at him. “See the future?”

“Yeah, but you’re too late. We’re gonna kill em all and take her for ourselves,” he laughed again, but his breath caught and he grunted in pain, his body convulsing.

Rose lowered the rifle, and slung it carefully over her shoulder. The man’s seared flesh was too badly damaged. He would die from blood loss, and it would be agonizing. She retrieved her pistol and aimed it at his forehead, then looked away before pulling the trigger.

 

Chapter Text

Rose stepped away from the man’s lifeless body, the throbbing pain in her arm causing her to croak out awkward, dry sobs. Blood was soaking through the fabric of her jacket. She didn’t have time for this. She dug through her bag and retrieved another stimpak. She had two left besides this one. It would be another two floors of these dangerous people before she reached the settlers who needed her help. She’d have to be careful.

She injected her arm with the needle, this time with less hesitation, and almost immediately she could feel the effects. She took a moment to reload her pistol, leaving the laser musket hanging by its strap across her back.

The rest of the museum was a trial, but she was more calculated in her approach than before. Raiders, the man on the balcony had called them. They were vicious, but most of them had split up among the various rooms of the building, and some of them were only armed with melee weapons, making them easy targets for Rose and her canine companion. This was especially true of Rose’s quieter approaches, her careful steps behind and between cover, staying in the shadows, and quick confrontations with the help of the dog. A couple of her opponents had gotten in some good swings with their blunt objects, but Rose pressed onward, sure that the hits she’d taken would become bruises by sunrise.

Her mind rattled with guilt from the bloodshed, but something in her gut told her that these raiders were not good people. She recalled her vigilante comic books, remembering the moral dilemma she shared with the protagonists regarding operating outside of the law in order to protect the innocent and exact justice in a way that was impossible for courtrooms and police officers.

There were no laws anymore. The raiders had shot first. And there was no telling what they would do to get their hands on the old woman she’d been told about.

As Rose climbed the ruined staircase to the third floor, she thought of Nate. What would he have done in her place? Presumably the same, if nothing else than to see if the settlers knew anything about Shaun’s kidnappers. She hoped she was doing the right thing. She couldn’t just leave these people stranded. The museum had provided her with lucky finds, too, like some more tv dinners, a dose of Med-X, a switchblade, a double-barrel shotgun she’d taken from a corpse, and ammunition. She’d almost passed up fishing another one of those Caps stashes out of a broken toilet in the men’s room on the second floor, but she knew it had to be important for something, so she retrieved it before rinsing her hands in the sink.

Every so often, she heard the man from the balcony discharge his weapon, along with shouts and gunfire presumably from the raiders. As Rose finished dispatching a pair of raiders in the last exhibit, she heard a third hit the floor out in the main hall, following a blast from the stranger’s laser musket. And then there was silence. Rose poked her shotgun through the doorway and around the corner, finding a closed but severely battered door. She approached it slowly, and knocked. She heard hushed voices inside, and watched as the dog approached the door and began wagging his tail and barking. She heard the knob turn, and watched the door creak open to reveal a handsome dark-skinned man garbed in that familiar Revolutionary-era clothing, complete with a lopsided tri-corn hat.

“Everybody calm down, it’s her,” he said after turning his head back towards the inside of the room.

He opened the door fully and gestured for Rose to come inside. The dog immediately went inside and went over to an older woman seated in a wheelchair beside a couch. There was a second man right inside the door, typing away at a terminal on a desk, and two other people on the far side of the room. One of them was pacing about, while the other was curled up with his hands around his legs and his back against a desk.

“Man, I don’t know who you are, but your timing is impeccable,” the dark-skinned man said, turning back to Rose.

“You don’t know the half of it,” she muttered.

“Preston Garvey, Commonwealth Minutemen.” He reached out to shake her hand and she obliged. Then she narrowed her eyebrows at him.

“Wait, the Minutemen?” So now I’m traveling BACK in time, she thought.

“Protect the people at a minute’s notice. That’s the idea, anyway. I joined up, thought I could make a difference, and I did. But then… well, things fell apart. Thanks to those raiders, looks like I’m the last Minuteman left standing.” Preston scowled at the floor.

”I’m… sorry to hear that. What happened?” Rose asked him.

“A month ago, there were twenty of us. Yesterday there were eight. And now, we’re five. First it was the ghouls in Lexington, and now this mess!” He shook his head.

“Shit,” Rose breathed. “That’s horrible. I’m sorry,” she repeated.

“Thank you,” Preston’s gaze returned to her. “And thank you for doing what you did. You didn’t have to help us. It was dangerous. But we appreciate it. What was your name?”

“Rose Halloran. And of course. I wouldn’t want to be left high and dry like that. And actually, I’m probably gonna need your help with something, too,” Rose admitted.

“Pleased to meet you, Rose. Help us get to safety and we’ll return the favor. Tenfold.”

“Deal,” Rose nodded. “What did you have in mind?”

“Well, we thought Concord would be a safe place to settle, but those raiders proved us wrong. And it won’t be long before they bring in more reinforcements. We do have one idea, though.”

“Shoot,” Rose said. “One good idea can make all the difference.”

“Sturges,” Preston turned his head to the man working on the terminal. “Tell her.”

Without missing a keystroke, Sturges spoke up.

“There’s a crashed vertibird up on the roof,” he said. “Old school. Pre-war. You might’ve seen it. Well, looks like one of its passengers left behind a seriously sweet goody. We’re talkin’ a full suit of cherry, T-45 Power Armor. Military-issue,” he chuckled. He had described it the way Nate used to describe luxury cars.

“I’ve never seen one in person, but my husband piloted one once, a long time ago…” she trailed off. “What makes this one so special?”

“West-tech internalized servo system, that’s what!” Sturges answered emphatically, finally turning away from the terminal to look at her. Rose stared at him awkwardly.

“In a language we all understand, Sturges,” Preston said patiently, one corner of his mouth lifting.

“Inside that baby, super is the new normal. You’ll be stronger, tougher, resistant to rads, and, get the suit, you can rip the mini gun right off the vertibird. Do that, and those raiders get an express ticket to hell. Ya dig?”

Rose’s stomach dropped as the realization hit her.

“You want me to pilot the suit?” she asked, a little more bewildered than she meant to sound. Preston and Sturges exchanged a look, then Preston took the lead again.

“Listen, I appreciate your help, really, but we’re pretty worn down. Some of us, well…” he trailed off as he looked over at the two people on the far side of the room. Rose followed his line of sight, and saw more clearly now that they looked to be of Asian-American descent, with dark hair, and pale olive skin. The woman had stopped pacing and was now resting against a wall with her arms crossed. “They don’t take easily to strangers.”

Rose paused as the woman poked her head up, her face contorted into a nasty scowl.

“Don’t talk about us like we’re not here, Preston,” she snarled.

Preston turned back to Rose, his eyebrows lifted as if to ask her, ‘ See what I mean?’

“Don’t worry, her bark is worse than her bite,” Sturges laughed. The woman’s frown deepened.

“Shut it, Sturges,” the woman barked and then looked at Rose. “You want our help? You go out there and get that Power Armor. Preston’s staying right here."

No convincing them, then. A deal’s a deal.

“Okay, but I’ve never piloted Power Armor before,” Rose stated as she crossed her arms and turned back to Preston, irritation prickling at her.

“Neither have any of us. Well, except for Sturges, in his dreams,” Preston teased.

Sturges rolled his eyes. “How hard can it be? That thing’s been powered off so long, it’ll probably reboot when you turn it on and give ya a damn tutorial,” he said confidently.

“You’re as good a candidate as any. I need to stay here with them, keep them safe,” Preston explained pleadingly. Rose looked the pair of them over, her stomach turning over with anxiety.

“All right,” she sighed heavily. Sturges pumped his fist in the air victoriously, and Preston beamed, mouthing the words thank you to Rose. She nodded. “Just tell me what to do.”

“Well…” Sturges paused, then ran a hand over the back of his neck. “There is just one hitch,” he added apprehensively. Rose perked up a brow at him. “Remember how I said the suit’s outta juice? Probably been dry for a hundred years.”

Rose opened her mouth to say something but Sturges held up a finger to stop her.

“It can be powered up again, but we’re a bit stuck on that part,” Sturges admitted.

“How so?” Rose asked.

“It needs an old, pre-war F.C.,” Preston spoke up. “A standard-issue fusion core. Long-term high-grade battery, used by the military and some companies way back when.” Preston gestured as he spoke, and Rose nodded at him.

“Yeah, yeah, I know em’,” Rose nodded.

“And we know right where to find one,” Preston continued.

But we can’t get to the damn thing,” Sturges interrupted, annoyed. Rose shot him a sideways glance. “It’s down in the basement,” he continued. “Locked behind a security gate.”

“Of course,” Rose mused, a smile starting on her face.

“Look, I fix things. I tinker. Bypassing security ain’t exactly my forté. You could give it a shot, though,” Sturges suggested.

Shit. Computers. Rose sighed inwardly. Hacking was never her strong suit. Physical locks she could handle. Digital ones? Not so much.

“Looks like I don’t have a choice. I’ll see what I can do,” she told them, her confidence waning.

“That’s all we can ask,” Preston’s voice was low. He turned to look at Sturges again. “Maybe our luck is finally starting to turn around.”

“Hell, it can’t get any worse, that’s for sure.” Sturges leaned back on the desk.

“Once you jack the fusion core into the Power Armor, and grab that minigun, those raiders’ll know they picked the wrong fight,” Preston pounded his fist down on an imaginary podium. “Good luck,” he nodded to her.

“I’m sure I’ll need it,” she sighed nervously, then looked to the dog on the floor. She looked back at Preston, her eyes searching his face for permission. “I just need a second.”

“Of course,” Preston said patiently, and Sturges nodded, the two of them watching her walk over to visit with the dog who was lying at the feet of the older woman. She had been watching the whole conversation, and her wrinkled face lit up as Rose approached. Rose smiled back at her, meeting her cloudy blue eyes, then kneeled to sit by the dog on the floor.

“You aren’t what I expected Dogmeat would find in that little neighborhood,” the woman told Rose in a slightly hoarse, yet gentle, voice. Rose looked up at her as she gently stroked the dog’s fur. “But, oh, so much better.” The pale, elderly woman was garbed in boots and a long, tattered skirt, a dusty, oversized teal suit jacket, a brown scarf around her neck, and a patterned head scarf that was tied off in the back and rested just above her silvery eyebrows. Large bangles adorned her wrists, and heavy earrings dangled on either side of her face. Rose looked at her wheelchair, wondering to herself how she could’ve gotten it up here, then looked back to Preston and Sturges, who were both of pretty athletic builds.

“Dogmeat,” Rose repeated the name quietly, both shocked and amused by its irony. “So he’s yours, then?”

“Oh, no,” the woman waved the assumption away. “He ain’t my dog, no, ma’am. Dogmeat, well, he’s what you’d call his own man,” she grinned down at the loafing mutt. “You can’t own a free spirit like that. He chooses his friends, and sticks with em’. He’ll stay by you now,” she promised, and then her voice dropped almost a whole octave as she whispered. “I saw it.” Rose’s expression perked up.

“You must be the one they’re after then,” she guessed. The old woman nodded slowly. “They said you can see the future?”

“It’s the chems, kid. They give ol’ Mama Murphy the Sight . Been that way for as long as I can remember,” she trailed off as if she were remembering her past.

“What’s the Sight ?” Rose gave the word air quotes.

“Oh, well I can see a bit of what was, and what will be. And even a little of what is, right now,” she explained, waving her arms lazily to illustrate.

“She’s crazy,” the pacing woman scoffed. Mama Murphy was unaffected by the accusation. “We don’t have time for this! Just go get the suit already!” the woman barked. Rose glared at her for a moment, and then Mama Murphy shifted in her wheelchair as if she’d been hit in the stomach. Rose and Dogmeat both jumped up, and Rose crouched in front of the old woman, whose eyes were now squinted closed.

“What’s wrong with her?” Rose asked Preston, who had crossed the floor to kneel beside Mama Murphy’s wheelchair.

“She’s having a vision. It’ll pass. She’ll be okay,” he assured Rose.

“Mama Murphy, talk to me. What do you see?” he asked her in a steady voice.

“Something… Something’s coming,” she managed to get out. “Drawn by the noise, and the chaos.” She relaxed again, and her eyes opened slowly, her expression full of worry. “And it is angry.”

Rose exchanged an alarmed look with Preston. She wanted to ask Mama Murphy more, but she was thoroughly creeped out by her revelation. She stood abruptly and headed towards the door. She wanted that suit for whatever might be approaching. Dogmeat rose to follow her, but she gently commanded him to sit, and he did.

“Listen bud,” she said as she scratched behind his ear. “Stay here, okay? You’ve seen enough combat for one day. Keep them safe.” Dogmeat tilted his head, whimpering at first, but then barking in affirmation.

“Rose,” Preston called and she stopped in the doorway. “Be careful. I’ll be out on the balcony to cover you.”

She nodded to him, and headed for the museum’s basement.

Chapter Text

Rose tried her best to ignore the injuries she’d sustained from her fights on the way up, but now that the combat had died down, every step she descended thrust a new ache into her bones. She wanted so badly to retrieve another stimpak from her bag to quiet the throbbing in her tired limbs, but she had the gut feeling that she should save them. Ordinarily, Rose wouldn’t have given much credit to a fortune-teller type, but Mama Murphy’s ‘vision’ had been so visceral that she couldn’t help but be unnerved. Rose tried to picture what could be worse than what she’d seen so far, realizing that raiders and those irradiated zombies and huge bugs were probably only the tip of the iceberg. She swallowed her fear as she reached the bottom floor of the museum, trying to focus on the task at hand.

Sure enough, the energy reactor was sectioned off in an impressive metal cage of a room with a security terminal on the right side of the thick, steel door. Rose approached the terminal, sighed, and hesitantly placed her fingers on the dusty keyboard. She pressed the power button and the screen flickered on to show a login menu. Rose navigated to hack the thing with careful keystrokes, but after four unsuccessful attempts, the computer bleeped at her, and she was met with a lockout screen. She cursed under her breath as she turned away. She turned back to the locked door thoughtfully, then switched on her Pip-Boy light to get a better look. She hadn’t noticed it in the dark, but there was a keyhole on the door. A sly smile crossed her lips and she set to work.

The lock clicked satisfyingly, and she nudged the door open. She stepped inside and examined the reactor’s control panel. It was covered with warnings and instructions in small letters, and there were several different buttons. Rose skimmed the directions, sliding her fingertips along the tiny font, and finally powered off the reactor before hitting the eject button. The caution lights on the reactor flickered, and the thing made a bzzz sound as the power died down. A small, gear-shaped console opened up and released the fusion core, a metal, yellow thing the size of a hand grenade. Rose prodded it lightly with her fingers to test if it was hot before grabbing it and heading back upstairs. She left her bag with Preston and the others, taking only her pistol, and Preston showed her to the door that provided rooftop access, and she took a deep breath before heading outside.

The brisk wasteland air and the sight of the demolished vertibird made her shiver. It had crashed into an office on the westernmost corner of the building, metal parts and bricks scattered about, along with burn marks across most of the surrounding walls. The power armor stood, slumped over, just beside the wreckage as if it was waiting for something, as if it had been deliberately placed there just for her. Something bright orange in her peripheral made her glance to her left. There, on an old desk, sat a small holotape. She picked it up carefully, and examined it before finding and popping open the tape player compartment on the Pip-Boy. She pressed play. There were a few seconds of static at first, and then a man’s voice.

“Personal log. United States Army. Staff Sergeant Michael Daly, This past Saturday, October 23rd, while en route to West Stockbridge, our vertibird crashed into the roof of this museum. The cause: EMP following nuclear detonation. Several, in fact. From the intel I’ve gathered, this was a global event.

The co-pilot was killed on impact. Pilot died of his injuries a day later. Day after that, Flaherty and Kanawa were shot by some scared, desperate survivors. Then Proznanski took off running. Haven’t seen him since. Now it’s my turn to go AWOL, if that concept even applies anymore. My armor’s fusion core is burned out, so I guess my soldiering days are done. I’m heading to Boston, on foot, to see if my sister survived all this. She’s got an apartment on Boylston Street.

This is Mike Daly, signing off. Good luck. And God bless America. Or what’s left of it.”

Rose held her hand over her mouth as she listened to the transmission. The floor seemed to sway underneath her as her mind wandered to what might’ve happened if she and her family hadn’t been ushered into Vault 111. They wouldn’t have been any better off, but they might’ve at least died together.

The sound of gunfire below pulled her back to the moment and she approached the suit of Power Armor awkwardly, eyeing it over, unsure of what to do next. She held the fusion core delicately, looking for somewhere it might go, and then noticed the hatch on the back of the armor. It was in the shape of a ship’s wheel, just like the ones that separated doorways on submarines. What had Nate called them? Dog hatches? Rose gripped the metal wheel with both of her hands and turned. She had to plant her feet and really work it loose, but finally she got it open, and switched out the cores.

Climbing into the oversized suit of armor was another story. She climbed up into the foot stirrups and let her hands slide into the arm compartments and took hold of the handles. The suit seemed to come alive at her touch, startling her slightly as the back folded downward against her and sealed her inside. After depressurizing, a HUD lit up across the transparent pane that let Rose see out of the helmet. The HUD was a dull yellow color, displaying a welcome message. Just as Sturges had guessed, the HUD gave Rose a short tutorial on the basics of using the suit. She quickly read through it, and took her first steps forward. Though it was something to get used to, the suit was not as difficult to pilot as she’d feared. Moving around was slow, and loud, but the suit did most of the work, also just like Sturges had said. The HUD informed her that the suit was at full power and nearly full structural integrity. It also seemed to be monitoring her vitals, which she was thankful for.

Rose climbed up into the remains of the vertibird and located the mini gun that Sturges had mentioned. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the long ammo belt still attached to the gun. She would have plenty of firepower to escort the settlers. She crouched down to get a good hold on the gun, and pulled at it. It separated easily from the aircraft, thanks to the added strength of the suit, so much so that Rose stumbled backwards after pulling it away. The gun was heavy, but much easier to tote around with the Power Armor. She squeezed the trigger gently, just to test the gun, and the barrel started to spin. She let go of the trigger and stepped out of the vertibird on the side opposite from the one she’d climbed up.

From the edge of the rooftop, she could see another horde of raiders approaching the building, all with weapons drawn, shadows encroaching on the small group of survivors. Mama Murphy sure is popular, she thought. She watched Preston emerge carefully back onto the balcony below, slightly illuminated by the red glow of his laser rifle.

“You’re outnumbered! Just go ahead and give up! We’ll go easy on ya!” One of the raiders below shouted with a cruel laugh, riling up the others. “I’ll give ya til the count of three!”

The crew of shadows slowly started prowling up to the front of the building. There were a lot more of them now than there had been before. They hadn’t noticed Rose yet.

“One!”

Rose stepped up onto the ledge of the building.

“Two!”

She gripped the mini gun closely to her side.

“Three!”

She braced herself and stepped off of the roof.

She landed at the front of the group of raiders, the steel feet of the Power Armor slamming into the pavement with a loud clunk, causing the street beneath it to crumble outward like a boulder on a frozen lake. The armor had absorbed all of the fall damage, leaving Rose free to recover from the sheer weight of gravity’s pull on the suit, but the shockwave had sent the nearest raiders stumbling backward onto their asses.

“What the hell?” Someone asked. Rose squeezed the trigger of the mini gun and fired away at the stunned crowd. All she could do was hold on as the gunfire ripped through the now-fleeing crew. Even with the Power Armor, Rose could barely manage the sheer firepower of the weapon.

The raiders were now running for cover as the reality of the moment struck them, their comrades around them either dropping to the ground or exploding into clouds of blood and sinew. Blasts of red light were fired into the fleeing crowd intermittently, courtesy of Preston from the balcony. Rose trudged after them, unrelenting, as they began to return fire at her. Their bullets fell like raisins against the metal of her armor as she followed them down Main Street, and the tide of the fight had officially turned in the survivors’ favor.

Until Rose heard a loud rumbling beneath the street, followed by an even louder clang as two halves of a rectangular sewer access cover were sent flying into the sky from underneath. Rose watched the grated metal panels squash an unsuspecting raider, emitting the sound Rose imagined a watermelon would make if someone had smacked it with a sledgehammer.

Even in the dim light of the moon she could see it: two enormous claws coming up out of the sewer on either side of the opening, followed by a muscular, reptilian form covered in spikes and savagely curled horns on either side of its head. Instinctively, Rose stepped backwards as the massive creature emerged fully from the sewer and bellowed a roar equal to that of ten lions. Its eyes glimmered yellow in the darkness as it found its first target: a raider that had been standing right beside the sewer, who was now completely frozen in fear. Rose watched the terrible lizard swipe the man up into its claws and rip him apart as he screamed, the two halves of his body falling in either direction.

Rose’s heart beat wildly in her chest, the hairs on her arms and the back of her neck standing on end, and she turned her fire to the massive creature. It hardly flinched as bullets sprayed across its scales, and as it turned to pursue Rose, her whole body seemed to turn to fire, her legs trembling as she backed away as quickly as she could while still maintaining her rate of fire, hoping only that she could put enough holes in it to stop it.

It accelerated quickly toward her, every step it took beating into the pavement, and then it went down on all fours and began a full-on sprint. Rose closed her eyes and screamed as it closed in on her and its weight hit her like a bus. She felt herself lose her balance and careen to the ground, and her breath stopped in her chest as the suit absorbed the hit. Suddenly Rose saw the creature’s face in its entirety, because it was roaring right into hers, teeth bursting from its giant maw and saliva spraying all over Rose’s visor. She squeaked out cries of terror, tears streaming down her face as she watched the creature raise its claw. When it brought down its massive taloned hand against the armor, Rose screamed again, wincing at the horrible sound of bone against metal as it began to tear through the Power Armor. She watched the suit’s structural integrity meter starting to decrease in chunks, one by one as the creature swiped at her. She held her arms up in front of her face, reflexively, trying whenever she could to get a hit in on the thing but it was useless.

Her fear broiled in her chest, turning to anger, and then she saw several bursts of red light burn across the creature’s head and back, and then Rose watched as a flaming bottle of liquor crashed into its face, setting its whole upper body ablaze. It screeched and jumped away from Rose, pawing at its face and pacing around beside her. She regained her footing as quickly as the now-crumbling suit would allow, realizing that the creature was standing between her and the minigun. When she moved to retrieve it, the beast shrieked at her angrily. She grit her teeth and reared an arm back, and with all of her Power-Armor-enhanced might, swung a metal-enclosed fist straight into the giant lizard’s still-burning face that propelled it sideways with a deafening crack. The creature reeled, catching itself on its forelegs, and when it turned its ugly head back to her, Rose could see that its jaw was hanging crooked, blood pouring from gnarled teeth. Preston was still firing at the monster from the balcony which provided Rose with enough cover to grab the minigun. She sidestepped a clumsy swipe from the creature, which was now swaying left and right with each step and panting, blood misting the air with every huff. Rose lifted the barrel of the minigun and fired at its limbs, and finally, its front legs gave out mid-stride and it somersaulted forward, face-first, landing in a bloody heap. Rose hefted the minigun to the side and it clattered against the broken pavement. She retrieved her pistol, the thing dwarfed by her armored hand, and held the barrel flesh with the lizard’s head. It writhed weakly, its limbs refusing to cooperate.

Rose pulled the trigger and the beast’s screeching ended with the echo of a single shot ringing through the night.

 

Chapter Text

Rose staggered backward away from the bloodsoaked corpse of the lizard. It twitched every now and then, but did not rise from its spot on the ruined pavement. The gravity of the scene caught up with her, and suddenly the suit of armor was too much, too tight; she couldn’t breathe. The world around her was spinning, too much, too fast, and her trembling hands searched the controls for the release switch. The suit powered down and unfolded, and she practically fell out of it, bumbling further away from the lizard’s carcass on whichever of her limbs she could put to the ground. She collapsed against a pile of sandbags, panting in rapid, uneven breaths as cold sweat enveloped her. The smell of the desolated battlefield hung heavy in the air and made her head swirl. She trembled, unable to stop her teeth from chattering as she tried to suppress the bile rising in her throat.

She heard the front door of the museum fling open, followed by Preston calling her name. She raised a quaking hand into the air and answered in a quavering voice.

“Here!” she managed to squeak out, and she heard Dogmeat barking coupled with his paws whisking down the street. He found her before Preston did, his tail wagging and his tongue borderline assaulting her face with slobber. He laid across her lap as he had done before in the townhouse, and she buried her hands in his fur, trying to focus on her breath. Preston knelt beside her, but in her fragile state, ended up startling her. She squeaked out a short cry and shifted away from him.

“Hey, hey! It’s all right. Rose, are you injured?” he asked her gently and she yelped out an abrupt and unwanted sob.

“No,” she breathed. “What the fuck was that thing?!” she asked him as she pointed a trembling finger at the beast.

“Deathclaw,” he answered.

“Those things are real?” she asked. Preston gave her a puzzled look before nodding his head.

“Rose, I need you to calm down, okay? It’s over now,” he told her, scanning the street ahead, and then her wide eyes met his. Dogmeat shifted in her lap, forcing his head between her arms and putting his full weight on her. Preston sat with Rose, instructing her to take deep breaths until she calmed down.

The rest of the survivors joined them outside, Sturges pushing Mama Murphy in her wheelchair around the obstacles in the street. Finally, Rose decided she was stable enough to get up, and Preston reached out a gloved hand to help her up.

“That was quite a display,” he admitted, grinning at her. “I’m just glad you’re on our side.”

“Uh-huh,” she sighed wearily, nodding to him.

“All right, everyone, see what we can salvage, but don’t take too long. We gotta get a move on,” Preston instructed them, and the group nodded. Sturges and the couple began meandering through the scattered piles of bodies, picking things from their pockets or from their belts, and taking them for their own. Rose watched, mouth slightly agape, her brows narrowed.

“You just… take their stuff?” She asked Preston and he considered her question for a moment.

“Uh, yeah…” he told her. “It’s not pretty, but they won’t be needing it anymore, so we figure someone might as well make use of it.”

Rose looked on as the settlers picked things off the deceased raiders, pondering the moral implications of taking things from dead people. But then, the raiders would have probably done the same, if not worse, to her and Preston’s group. She absentmindedly reached down to pat Dogmeat on the head. He sat patiently at her side, tongue lolling, enjoying the attention.

“You’re…. not from around here, are you?” Preston asked her, catching her off-guard. He was looking her over, and she felt her cheeks get warm as she realized that her vault suit and Pip-Boy combination probably stuck out like a sore thumb. She pulled her jacket closer around her midsection and cleared her throat.

“You could say that,” she muttered, glancing sideways at him.

“Well,” he adjusted the strap of his laser rifle. “In that case, I’m sure nobody would complain if you decided to stick around.”

Rose glanced at the ground, unsure of herself. “I don’t know,” she thought aloud.

“Hey, listen,” Preston continued gently. “When we met earlier, and you asked me about the Minutemen? Well, I wanted to clear something up. One thing you should know about us, we help out our friends.”

Rose’s brows perked up and she tucked a hair behind her ear. “Friends?”

“After everything you just did for us? I’d say so.” Rose’s gaze wandered to the woman who’d been so impatient with her in the museum before.

“Don’t pay Marcy any mind. Honestly, she’s always like that,” he spoke just above a whisper, and then his expression turned somber. “She and Jun lost their son, back in Quincy. She’s been taking it pretty hard.”

Rose’s heart dropped into her stomach. “Oh,” was all she said, a frown crossing her face. “I, uh… I know what that’s like. Only I’m not sure if my son is dead or alive.” Her words fell to the floor.

“I’m sorry,” Preston told her, briefly resting a gentle hand on her arm. She looked at him with appreciation. “Come with us,” he insisted kindly. “I’ll do whatever I can to help you find him. I’d be happy to return the favor.”

Rose swallowed the lump in her throat and finally smiled at him. “All right, Garvey. I’m in.” He smiled back at her and the two of them shook hands. Dogmeat wagged his tail excitedly, and it flapped against Rose’s boot. She chuckled at him and scratched under his chin.

“Oh, that’s wonderful,” Mama Murphy piped up to Rose’s left as Sturges pushed the old woman’s wheelchair closer. “There’s more to your destiny, isn’t there? I’ve seen it. And I know your pain,” the woman promised, her eyes full of sympathy.

“My destiny,” Rose humored her. “What do you mean?”

Mama Murphy reached out a wrinkled hand to grip Rose’s, gently tugging at her so that she could look into her eyes. “You’re a woman out of time. Out of hope. But all’s not lost,” she promised. Rose leaned closer, desperate for more. Mama Murphy closed her eyes, focusing on something. “I can feel… your son’s energy,” she opened her eyes again. Rose held her breath. “He’s alive.”

“Where? Mama Murphy, where’s my boy?” Rose asked breathlessly, squeezing the woman’s hand a little tighter.

“He’s… shrouded. Hidden by something,” Mama Murphy rasped. She winced and lifted her other hand to rub her temple.

“Mama,” Sturges and Preston worried simultaneously, both of them placing a hand on her shoulder. She waved them away tenderly.

“Boys, I’m fine, I’m fine. Stop fussin’.” She looked back at Rose. “Look, kid, I know how I sound. The Sight, it’s weird. And it ain’t always clear. But your son’s out there,” she concluded and Rose nodded as she let go of the woman’s hand.

“Well, you’ve been right so far,” Rose glanced at the stinking carcass of the deathclaw. “Thank you, Mama Murphy.”

“That’s right. Don’t worry, Rose. We’ll find your boy,” Preston added.

“And I don’t even need the Sight to tell you where you should start lookin’,” Mama Murphy spoke up again matter-of-factly. Rose raised an eyebrow at her. “The great, green jewel of the Commonwealth,” she gestured lazily with her hands. “Diamond City. The biggest settlement around.”

“What’s in Diamond City?” Rose asked, glancing between Preston, Sturges, and Mama Murphy. Sturges shrugged and looked to Preston, who pursed his lips and shook his head unknowingly at Rose. She sighed inwardly and her eyes returned to Mama Murphy.

“Look, kid, I’m tired now,” she breathed. “Maybe you bring me some chems later, the Sight will paint a clearer picture,” she suggested as she slumped back in her chair.

“No,” Preston argued firmly as he shook his head. “Mama Murphy, we talked about this. That junk… it’s gonna kill you.”

“Oh, shush, Preston,” she waved him off. “We’re all gonna die eventually. We’re gonna need the Sight. And our new friend here, she’s gonna need it too,” Mama Murphy gestured at Rose before she crossed her arms. “You promised you’d help find her boy, now let me do my part.”

Preston glowered at her momentarily. “Fine,” he sighed, lifting up the bill of his hat to rub his forehead briefly. “Just don’t let me know about it.”

Mama Murphy smiled triumphantly and pushed at him. “Come on, let’s go. Sanctuary awaits.” Rose lifted her brows and opened her mouth to speak but Preston beat her to the punch.

“All right, folks,” he announced, and the group closed around them. “Thanks to our friend here, it’s safe to move out. We’re heading for that place Mama Murphy knows about. Sanctuary. It’s not far.”

“She knows about it?” Marcy asked raucously. “You mean she had one of her ‘visions’ while she was stoned out of her gourd, and now you want us to just head out on another wild goose chase based on no better plan than ‘Mama Murphy saw it’?”

Preston and Rose both started to speak up, and Marcy continued her tirade before Sturges cut her off.

“Hey, now! Everybody just take it easy! Marcy, don’t have a brahmin,” he chided. “We’re all in this together, right?” he held his open hand in the air, waiting for an answer.

“Yeah, whatever,” she rolled her eyes at him.

“Do you got a better idea of what we should do next?” he inquired, leaning forward with his hands on his hips. A moment of silence passed and she didn’t answer, but crossed her arms at him and looked away. “Okay then. Anybody else?”

Rose eyed the measly group of survivors before raising her hand slightly, one finger pointed upward. Sturges nodded to her to signal that she had the floor.

“Are you all talking about Sanctuary Hills? The neighborhood just up the road from here?” she asked and everyone agreed in part. “Going there’s actually probably your best bet. I just came from there,” she vouched. “It’s completely abandoned, apart from my friend Codsworth.”

Marcy looked daggers at Rose, but everyone else seemed pleased.

“Well, then. Sanctuary it is. Let’s just hope it lives up to its name,” Sturges grinned. Marcy tugged at Jun’s arm, informing it was time to go, and he seemed completely unfazed, but he took her hand. Rose looked after them, a lingering tightness in her chest.

“What if the raiders follow us?” Rose asked Preston, still watching Marcy and Jun.

“I doubt they will. If the deathclaw didn’t scare them enough, I’m sure you did. But even if they do, we’ve got another person on our team now. Better bring the Power Armor just in case, though. We can’t forget the price we paid to get this far,” Preston’s voice was solid as he spoke, and it seemed as if he’d said that last part only to himself. Rose considered him for a moment before returning to the suit. As she climbed inside, she wondered who Preston had lost. The Commonwealth seemed to be harsh for everyone . At least she wasn’t alone in that.

“I’ll take point,” Preston told her before moving to the front of the crowd. “Stay close, everyone.”

“We’re right behind you, boss,” Sturges said.

Rose whistled for Dogmeat to stick close to her and he did. As the group passed the deathclaw’s body, they all stepped farther around it than necessary, as if they were waiting for it to come alive again and tear them to pieces.

“I still can’t believe you took that thing out,” Sturges mentioned as he patiently pushed Mama Murphy along.

“Me neither,” Rose agreed, her voice crackling through the speaker on the helmet.

“First time I’ve seen one of them up close. I’m very glad it’s already dead.”

Rose thudded along behind the group, and watched a carrion bird land on the deathclaw’s carcass. When she looked up, there were even more of them circling. Flies buzzed loudly, joining in to feast upon its broken body, along with those of the raiders scattered in the street.

Their journey was slow-going, but Rose didn’t mind. She kept an eye out for any movement with her shotgun drawn and Dogmeat by her side, the two of them heading up the pack, with Preston in front and the other three guarded at the middle. By the time they emerged from the city, she could see the familiar Red Rocket sign up the hill in the distance. The sun was barely beginning to peek up over the horizon, its light obscured by thick clouds, turning them a soft periwinkle against the last of the night sky.

I guess it really is darkest before dawn, Rose joked drily to herself. No wonder those raiders were after Mama Murphy.

As the group neared the top of the hill just before the Red Rocket station, they passed the decaying bodies of the two-headed cow and the bugs.

Yeeeck,” Sturges commented, putting his hand up to cover his nose. “I hate bloodbugs.”

So I guess that’s what those are called, Rose thought to herself as she passed the mutated, oversized mosquitoes. She remembered Sturges’ comment to Marcy. ‘Don’t have a brahmin,’ she repeated it in her head as she passed the carcass of the two-headed cow. Duly noted.

The group rounded the corner that turned into Sanctuary Hills, and although Rose had done this a hundred times, this time was different. Every step was heavy to her. Preston approached the old Minuteman statue, reaching a hand out towards its plaque, his face turned up to the statue’s own in awe.

“I’ll be damned. This is the monument to the original Minutemen. I had heard that was somewhere around Concord. That means,” he turned to the left to approach the dilapidated bridge. “This right here must be the Old North Bridge. Where the first shots of the American Revolution were fired! I’d call that the best omen I’ve seen since Quincy.” Preston’s pace quickened slightly as he started across the bridge.

A corner of Rose’s mouth turned up at his amazement. When she and Nate had moved into the neighborhood, they’d been fascinated by the history of the place, too. Preston sounded just like the tour guide that sometimes led small groups of people around, giving them stories of America’s formative days.

“Ehhh I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, boss, but I’m glad you’re happy about it,” Sturges replied, pushing Mama Murphy’s wheelchair carefully over the crooked slats of wood. The lot of them continued up the street cautiously, and decided to make camp at a crooked yellow house at the center of the subdivision, just across the street from Rose’s old home. She stared at the thing as her companions inspected the yellow house. To their luck, someone had been here before, leaving behind three different workbenches with various equipment, and according to Sturges, a Power Armor rack. Rose exited the suit and left it in the center of the large metal structure.

“All right, everyone. Take a rest here. I’m going to establish a perimeter.” Preston equipped his laser rifle from across his back. “Keep your eyes and ears open.”

“Sure thing, boss,” Sturges waved his hand in a quick salute.

“Rose,” Preston said her name and she turned to him suddenly.

“Yeah?”

“Would you mind coming with me while I check the perimeter? Two sets of eyes are better than one.”

“Uh, sure. Yeah,” she nodded, and followed after him. She turned back to Dogmeat. “Stay, boy.” he cocked his head to one side. “Help keep watch, okay?” he barked affirmatively at her, and went to sit by Mama Murphy’s side.

 

Rose and Preston stalked the outside edge of the neighborhood, the sun barely beginning to peek over the horizon. As they trudged through the ruined backyards of people she used to call neighbors, sadness eclipsed her again, and she found herself thinking of all the faces she used to see on a daily basis frozen inside the pods in the Vault.

“Rose?” Preston asked her, startling her out of her daze.

“Hm?”

“I don’t mean to pry, but,” he paused. She’d known it was coming. “How’d you know about Sanctuary? I thought you weren’t from around here.”

“Well,” she sighed. “Technically I am from around here, but not from this version of here.”

Preston stopped and turned to her, his brows coming to meet as he pursed his lips. “Wait, what do you mean?”

“I mean that I’m from the Commonwealth that existed over 200 years ago,” she said earnestly. “I used to live here, with my husband and my son, up in that little blue house across the street from where we made camp,” she pointed up the hill. “Of course, everything looked way different than it does now. Thanks to the war, I’m a stranger in my own home,” she sighed. Preston stared at her for a moment, taken aback by what she’d said.

“Okay, I have a lot of questions,” he held his hand to his forehead as if his brain hurt from processing what she’d said. She nodded expectantly. “Do you mean the war? The one that caused this radioactive wasteland we’re now standing in?”

“Yep,” Rose nodded.

“How’s that possible?” Preston asked her in an incredulous whisper.

“It isn’t,” she scoffed drily and leaned against a fencepost. “But I was frozen or something. All of us were. There’s a Vault just up the hill from here. Vault 111. On the day the bombs fell, my family and I rushed in there to escape the blast. We didn’t know that it was a front for an experiment like that, until it was too late,” her eyes drifted to the ground and a tic started in her jaw. Though, I guess that was our fault. Everything was an experiment to the government back then. Everyone a potential guinea pig.

Preston’s face turned to a mix of sympathy and disbelief as he waited for more. “So what happened to your family then? How come your son is missing?”

Rose cleared her throat. “That’s what I’m trying to figure out. Someone came into the Vault and took my son. Thawed us out for a few minutes I guess. I woke up long enough to watch my family be taken from me in a matter of seconds,” Rose wiped her eyes. “My husband was trying to keep them from taking Shaun, and they killed him. I couldn’t do anything,” Rose seethed as she remembered the face of the man who had peered into her cryopod that day, referring to her as the backup.

“Damn,” Preston said, shaking his head at her.

“Anyway,” she continued. “They refroze us, and I guess the system malfunctioned or something, and I was thawed out again at some point, and basically ejected from my pod. I only woke up a couple of days ago.”

“What about everyone else?” Preston asked.

“I think when the system malfunctioned, the release function got messed up. So everyone else is just stuck in their pods. And I don’t even know if they’re still alive. I was the only one who got out,” Rose crossed her arms. “And I don’t know how much time has passed between when Shaun got kidnapped and when I woke up.”

“Rose, I'm… I’m so sorry. That’s a lot to process. And… I’m sorry about your husband.”

The two of them were quiet for a moment before Preston spoke again.

“Listen, I can’t imagine what you’re going through. But for you to stop and help us, only days after you got out of the vault, probably scared to death? That’s real courage. We need people like you. Hell, the Minutemen need people like you. And I promise, I’ll do whatever I can to help you find your boy. You’re a part of our family now,” Preston assured her with a gentle pat on the arm.

“Thank you, Preston,” she said barely above a whisper. He nodded at her.

“Come on, let’s finish this sweep and get back. I don’t want anyone to worry about us.”

Chapter Text

    The early sunlight beamed through the hazy air and against the trees, casting long shadows on the ground. Rose and Preston were just about to meet back up with the group when Preston noticed Codsworth floating around through one of the empty houses.

    “What’s that?” Preston raised his rifle but Rose pushed her hand gently down on the barrel to make him lower it.

    “Relax,” she told him. “Hey, Codsworth!” she called to the silver bot, and it spun around to float towards the two of them.

    “Oh, hello mum!” he called cheerfully, waving one of his metal arms at her.

    “Huh,” Preston thought aloud with a finger resting on his chin as he watched the old robot hover closer.

    “What?” Rose queried.

    “Nothing, it’s just, I didn’t know you could be friends with a Mr. Handy,” Preston chuckled, placing his hands on his hips.

    “What makes you say that?” Rose crossed her arms.

    “Well, most of the ones I’ve seen haven’t aged very well, and they’re either on the fritz or hostile towards just about everything,” Preston added. Rose gave him a conceding nod, her mouth making a small ‘o’ shape.

    “We had him for about a year before the bombs fell. Got him to help raise Shaun,” she trailed off as she glanced at the floor.

    “Ah! I see you’ve made friends! I’m glad your trip to Concord wasn’t a lost cause after all!” Codsworth announced as he finally closed the last of the distance between himself and Rose.

    “Me too,” Rose agreed with him. “Codsworth, this is Preston,” she gestured to the dark-skinned man and he tipped his hat to the old bot. “He and his group are going to be staying here in Sanctuary,” she turned to Preston. “Right?”

    “Looks that way,” he agreed.

    “Well! Pleased to make your acquaintance, sir,” Codsworth mimicked a courteous bow. “It’ll be so nice to have company ‘round again! Gets dreadfully lonely out here, you know. And who knows! Help me tidy up and you all might be able to make a new home out of this place yet!” Codsworth laughed and Rose exchanged a wry look with Preston.

    “That… actually sounds like a great idea,” Preston decided. “Though, I’m sure Sturges is already way ahead of us on that one.”

Rose arched a brow at him, then remembered what Sturges had said before about fixing things. “So, he’s like, your handyman?” she asked.

“That’s one way of putting it,” Preston shrugged. “He’s a jack-of-all-trades, I guess. Couldn’t tell you the names of the founding fathers, but he’s a genius with a blowtorch. If anybody knows how to build something, it’s him. Got a knack for working with his hands,” Preston remarked, a grin creeping its way across his lips.

“He sounds like a fine chap!” Codsworth said, and Rose nodded.

“He’s probably already drawing up blueprints for how we can fix this place up,” Preston added.

“I wouldn’t know where to start,” Rose admitted, shaking her head in awe of such a task. “Let’s get back,” she suggested and Preston nodded. “That way, Codsworth can meet everybody,” she nudged the robot playfully as the three of them turned to continue down the street.

 

Everyone had been pleasant enough meeting Codsworth, save for Marcy, who wanted nothing to do with him, but Rose had expected that much. Jun was characteristically unresponsive aside from a quick ‘hello’ before Marcy scolded him and he shied away. Sturges, on the other hand, was so thrilled to see a functioning Mr. Handy model that he nearly jumped out of his overalls. Mama Murphy told him he should have her over for tea soon. Dogmeat gave him a quick sniff before deciding the rusty bot was up to snuff before returning to Rose’s side. It was a small thing, but Rose was happy to see the one remaining entity she had left from her time be well-received by her new allies.

Once the introductions were over, Rose and Preston had everyone gather underneath the carport of the yellow house. Marcy and Jun sat beside each other, propped up against one of the walls while Sturges leaned forward on his palms against one of the worktables. Mama Murphy sat dozing in her chair, but perked up when it was time to discuss what to do next.

“So, boss, is the coast clear?” Sturges asked.

“For now,” Preston answered, pushing his laser rifle back over his shoulder. “But, at some point we need to set up a guard rotation. That’ll be pretty difficult until we get more people, so I’ll stay in charge of keeping watch until then.”

“Get more people?” Rose repeated.

“Once we get a little more settled in, and we have enough bunks and basic necessities, we can set up a recruitment beacon for people to come live here,” Preston told her. Rose nodded.

“Wait, you’re gonna let just anybody march in here?!” Marcy piped up accusingly. “Do you want a repeat of Quincy?!”

“Marcy,” Preston sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Listen, I know it’s hard, but people out there need help, and we need help. You’re going to have to accept that.”

She screwed her face up at him, but Sturges cut her off before she spoke again.

“You don’t want to have to do all the gardening by yourself, do ya? Come on, Marcy,” he joked, and her lip curled up at him. He changed his tone to a slightly more sincere one. “Give this place a chance. Mama Murphy wouldn’t steer us in the wrong direction. Maybe leaving Quincy was a good thing.” Marcy’s eyebrows narrowed and Sturges winced at the realization of what he’d said.

“Fuck you, Sturges,” she spat at him as she rose from her spot on the floor. Mama Murphy reached out to grab her arm as she stormed off, but she swatted her hand away. Jun remained on the floor, his arms cradling his legs to his chest. He blanched and turned his head away from the rest of the group. Preston cut his eyes to Sturges accusingly and he shrunk backward.

“That’s not what I meant,” he sighed, holding out a hand in defeat. “Marcy!” he called after her but she whirled her upper body around to briefly shoot him the bird. Rose chewed her lip, watching the woman storm off, and finally decided to follow her, but Preston held an arm out in front of her. She glanced at his arm and then to his face, arching a brow at him. He just shook his head.

“I know you want to help, but, trust me, the last thing she needs is advice from someone she doesn’t know yet. Give her time,” he said patiently. Rose followed Preston’s gaze, the two of them watching Marcy as she disappeared behind a dilapidated house.

“Isn’t that dangerous? Going off by herself?” Rose wondered aloud. Preston pursed his lips.

“She won’t go far,” he said before turning back to Sturges. “You have got to stop provoking her.”

“I didn’t mean to,” Sturges argued.

“You have a bad habit of putting your foot in your mouth,” Mama Murphy added without even looking at him. He crossed his arms and looked back to the worktable.

“I’m sorry,” he confessed quietly.

“You don’t need to tell me that, honey,” Mama Murphy cut him a sideways glance.

“Okay, I’ll tell her I’m sorry when she comes back, IF she’ll even talk to me,” he promised stubbonrly. “But, before y’all get any madder at me, I wanted to show ya somethin’.” He moved some tools from the table to a nearby shelf, uncovering a large scrap of cloth with some markings on it.

“Told you,” a corner of Preston’s mouth turned up as he and Rose exchanged a glance. Sturges ignored them, getting ready to show off his plans with a triumphant grin.

“What do you have for us, Sturges?” Rose asked.

“Well, while you two were moseyin’ around out there, I got started on some plans for fixin’ this place up. I think we should start with this house, since it’s got the worktables and all. We’ll start by scrapping everything we can for raw materials, repair the walls and the roof, make some beds, and we’ll be set. Now, that’s a tall order for three people - five if Marcy decides that she and Jun will forgive me and help - but I think we can do it in a couple of weeks, tops. Rose, I hope you don’t mind me volunteerin’ you, and I hate to ask you to save our asses yet again, but as you can see, we’re short on manpower.”

“Oh, well…” Rose considered him, irritation prickling at the back of her mind.

“You don’t have to, Rose, but we would be in your debt, even more than we already are. Plus, it’d give you some more time to adjust to the Commonwealth before you head out for Diamond City. It’s brutal out there, and I’d feel pretty bad about myself for sending a newbie out there on their own, without giving them some pointers first,” Preston interceded.

“Sure,” she said finally, Preston’s suggestion putting her more at ease with the idea of putting her main task on hold for the moment. It’ll probably do me some good to get some exercise, anyway. No telling what being frozen for 200 years did to my muscles. No use looking for Shaun if I’m just going to wind up dead.

“All right!” Sturges slapped his hands together, then placed them back on the table to continue his demonstration. “Say, ya think Codsworth would help us too?”

“That’s what he’s programmed for, so I’ll ask him,” Rose chuckled.

 

Over the next several days, Rose assisted her new comrades in the start of the rebuilding effort. On that first day, after about an hour of trying, Mama Murphy eventually coaxed Marcy into forgiving Sturges just enough to help out. Jun lended a hand too, livening up just a tad from having something productive to do. For the first two days, Rose’s job was to gather smaller useful items, like old telephones, hot plates, and the like, from the nearby homes. Sturges even fashioned a makeshift backpack for Dogmeat to wear so he could help out. Marcy and Jun were assigned to tidying up the rooms of the yellow house, and Mama Murphy helped out wherever she was able to, between spells of chronic pain. Once they had enough junk, Sturges, Codsworth, and Preston broke everything down into smaller pieces so that Codsworth could melt it down or dismantle it into separate raw materials. After that, the crew set out to gathering wood by cleaning up the mess of tangled trees closest to the house, and felling a few nearby trees and chopping them into different-sized pieces. All through their work, the different group members exchanged information about the Commonwealth with Rose. All things she would have to practice or see in person to really understand, but time would tell. Sometimes it was how to find food, or how to avoid interactions with raiders and something called super mutants. Other times it was the different types of ghouls, by which Rose was completely bewildered. After Preston pointed out that the wound on her leg from the molerat wasn’t healed completely because of radiation damage from the bite, she learned that RadAway could be your best friend, along with stimpaks and water, out in the wasteland. Between learning about the horrors the Commonwealth contained and physical exertion, each night that Rose relaxed into her threadbare cot, she fell into dreamless sleeps, for which she was thankful.

The group went from sleeping on the floor on old cushions to actual, makeshift cots on bed frames. Preston was right: Sturges was a genius with a blowtorch. By the end of the week, Marcy and Jun had started a small garden out back of the yellow house, and the roof was almost completely repaired. Sturges had begun to make plans for the other houses; what could be saved, what needed to be completely bulldozed - which, without an actual working bulldozer, would prove a challenge, but Preston’s companions were determined, and it was rubbing off on Rose. Sturges had a mountain of ambitions despite the losses the group had suffered, but Rose knew that some people coped like that: rebuilding twice that of what had been taken from them. Whatever his motivation, Rose couldn’t help but share his enthusiasm, and at the end of their long workdays, when her muscles were sore and her stomach was growling for more than the meager fare of pre-war food, she found herself wanting to rebuild, too.

Preston was good at keeping Sturges’ passions in check and his focus on the current task. Rose often watched them cracking jokes together on lunch breaks. On a day when the sun had been beating down on them particularly brutally, Rose had looked up from a patch job on the outside of the house to wipe the sweat from her brow, and noticed Preston staring at Sturges from afar as he doused his face and neck with water. Preston had noticed her watching him and he had returned back to work too quickly, clearing his throat and shuffling nervously. That night, as she’d snuggled deeper into her cot, Dogmeat beside her, she’d remembered it, and laughed through her nose just before drifting off.

    Before Rose knew it, almost two weeks had passed since she’d arrived in Sanctuary with everyone.

    “Shit,” she sighed to herself one night by the group’s fire. Everyone looked up from their meals slowly.

    “What’s up?” Sturges asked.

    “Nothing, I just…. Didn’t realize we’d been here for almost two weeks,” she rested her forehead in one hand as she looked down at her Pip-Boy’s time and date. Guilt suddenly began to eat at her.

    “Oh,” Preston breathed, his face immediately turning apologetic. “Rose, I’m sorry, I… Well I hope we didn’t hold you up or anything,” he looked into her eyes as he spoke. She shook her head.

    “No, no, it’s fine,” she argued. “No, I needed this, I think,” she admitted. “I needed to know what’s out there. Give myself a chance to get acclimated. I just… I need to get back out there. I need to keep looking for Shaun.”

    “Of course,” Preston said, nodding.

    “Shit, you don’t need our permission to go,” Sturges laughed between bites of his salisbury steak. “I think even Marcy would agree,” he winked and nudged an elbow in her direction and she scowled at him. “You’ve earned your place here. You come and go as you please. Let us know what we can do to help.”

    “Thank you,” Rose chuckled.

    “Which reminds me,” Mama Murphy perked up, a wry smile on her face. “I still owe you a fortune telling.” Rose couldn’t hide her grin, but she felt bad when she saw Preston shifting uncomfortably in his seat. Marcy rolled her eyes.

    “You oughta feel special, Rose,” Sturges motioned to her with the bottle in his hand before taking a long pull on it. “Mama Murphy don’t offer the Sight to just anybody.”

    “Yeah, well, I told her it’s best not to ask strangers for chems,” Preston interjected, sounding annoyed. Mama Murphy shook her head at him.

    “Don’t you worry about the supply. Preston doesn’t know where I keep my stash,” she teased whimsically and Preston huffed at her.

    “Not like I have any to give,” Rose countered. “Besides, I was a lawyer back in my day. Pretty sure that goes against my moral code,” she joked drily.

    “Well,” Sturges said, sounding both impressed and amused. “Someone’s a smart cookie.”

    “A lawyer, huh? Can’t say I’m surprised,” Preston admitted, and Rose appreciated the compliment.

    “What’s a lawyer?” Marcy asked, her arms crossed.

    Rose began to answer, but Sturges, per usual, beat her to the punch with one of his quips. “Think of it as a professional arguer,” he suggested and Marcy scrunched up her face.

    “Uh, well, it’s really a lot more complicated than that,” Rose broke in. “Not that it matters anymore, I guess. But, I used to try to convince people of whether or not someone was guilty of something they were accused of doing.”

    “Why?” Marcy asked acerbically.

    “There used to be this really popular idea of ‘innocent until proven guilty’,” Rose explained. Marcy scoffed.

    “Sounds like a waste of time,” she countered.

    “Sometimes, yeah,” Rose confessed. “Especially in cases where you just knew that somebody was guilty, but because of the laws, or lack of substantial evidence, sometimes the real nasty ones got to walk free.”

    Marcy took a moment to think that over. Rose watched her process the idea that justice used to be a drawn-out process of red tape, rather than what she was probably used to out in the Commonwealth.

    “Were you any good?” Marcy finally asked quietly.

    “I was all right,” Rose shrugged, and Sturges smirked at her.

    “Aw, hell, there ain’t no point in bein’ modest!” Sturges nudged her with his elbow and she chuckled.

    “Fine,” she sighed. “I was pretty damn good. Everybody loses a case, but I never went down without a fight.”

    “There ya go,” Sturges laughed.

    Marcy seemed content with that answer, and returned back to her figurative shell to finish the rest of her meal. Rose felt pleased that Marcy had finally spoken to her, watching the fragile woman from across the orange blaze.

 

    After dinner, when most everyone had gone to bed, Rose and Mama Murphy stayed up, sitting at the edge of the carport together, watching the stars peek through the clouds. Dogmeat, now resigned to go wherever Rose went, laid beside her, curled up with his snout tucked into the fur of his tail.

    “I see those wheels turnin’ over there,” Mama Murphy broke the silence with her gentle, raggedy voice. “What are you thinkin’ about?”

    Rose smiled wistfully at the sky. “There’s no light pollution,” she pointed out and Mama Murphy looked back to the sky curiously. “Back before the war, you could barely see the stars, there was so much of it. Lights from the cities and everything. It was hard to see anything when you looked up at night.”

    “Huh,” Mama Murphy said quietly, as if she were trying to imagine a different sky than the one she was so used to. “This world, it’s not yours, but here you are…” The sentiment made Rose frown.

    “I’m trying to make the best of it. When life gives you lemons and all that,” she muttered.

    “You will. You’re already doing that by joining us here,” Mama Murphy reassured her. “I knew you would. Your energy’s tied to this place.”

    “What do you mean?” Rose asked.

    “Like I said before, I saw you coming to save us at Concord. I saw you leave that ice box. I know your pain,” Mama Murphy’s eyes were sincere, and Rose swallowed the urge to cry. Mama Murphy reached into a pouch attached to the side of her wheelchair and pulled out a red inhaler, or so it appeared. “The Sight can help you, kid. It always has answers.” Rose studied the item before looking back at Mama Murphy.

    “I don’t want to make Preston mad,” she worried. “That stuff can’t be good for you.”

    “Honey, it isn’t. But it’s my choice. And if he’s going to be mad at anyone, it’ll be me.” Rose stared at the drug for a while, her fingers tapping nervously against her sides, before she finally looked back at Mama Murphy.

    “Okay, “ Rose sighed, and Mama Murphy removed the cap from the inhaler before holding it to her mouth and breathing it in. She closed her eyes and let the inhaler slip out of her hands and into her lap as she leaned back in her chair, her head against the headrest. She breathed a big sigh of contentment, and Rose waited for her vision to come.

    For a while, there was nothing but silence and the sound of the wilderness around them. Mama Murphy mumbled incoherently in her chair, and Rose busied herself with brushing her fingers through Dogmeat’s fur while she waited. Then, Mama Murphy stirred slowly in her chair, and opened her eyes to find Rose. She reached out to grab Rose’s hand before speaking.

    “Diamond City,” she said, her rough voice floating. “Diamond City holds answers, but they’re locked tight. You ask them what they know, but,” she paused, letting the vision catch up. “people’s hearts are chained up with fear and suspicion. But you find it,” she promised, and Rose’s chest stirred, tears coming back to her eyes. She gripped Mama Murphy’s hand tighter. “You find that heart that’s gonna lead you to your boy.” Tears dripped down from Rose’s eyes, and she couldn’t help but tremble. “Oh, it’s… it’s bright. So bright against the dark alleys it walks… that’s what you have to do,” Mama Murphy instructed her.

“Follow those signs to that heart.”

   

Chapter Text

“You find that heart that’s gonna lead you to your boy.”

Mama Murphy’s words echoed through Rose’s mind as she woke, her dream dissolving away quickly before she could grasp any real fragments of it. She blinked the sleep from her eyes and turned over to check the time on her Pip-Boy that rested beside her cot. 6:43 AM. The sun was just barely streaming through the window of the crowded bedroom, illuminating part of Preston’s face, who slept a few feet from Rose. He was snoring quietly as his chest rose and fell. She sat up, careful not to make too much noise as she pulled the covers back and slid her feet to the floor. Dogmeat perked up slightly, shifting just enough so he could make sure Rose was still in sight. He laid his head back down and huffed a gentle sigh, always watching her with his big brown eyes. Rose looked over at him, amused, as she dressed herself. She looked back at Preston, glad that he seemed to be out like a light. He had barely taken time off from keeping watch since they’d arrived in Sanctuary, except for when the group made him. Last night, Marcy had volunteered to sit up, and requested that Preston get some rest with a softness that Rose hadn’t seen from the woman before. Rose sat back down on the bed carefully and began to lace up her boots. Preston turned over in his bed, mumbling something quietly.

Rose donned her jacket and stepped outside, shivering in the brisk morning air. She zipped up her jacket and tucked her hands into her pockets, watching Dogmeat slink past her to go do his morning business. She stretched and yawned, and approached Marcy who was seated on a stool at the edge of the carport, a hunting rifle laid across her lap.

“Morning, Marcy,” Rose mumbled sleepily, but Marcy didn’t reply. Instead, she shushed Rose and pointed at something in the distance. Rose’s eyes followed her outstretched arm, nervous about what could be at the end of it, and noticed Dogmeat crouched in the grass, also looking ahead. Something moved between two of the houses. Rose leaned forward, trying to get a better glimpse of the thing. “What is that?” Rose asked in a low voice.

“Radstag,” Marcy answered as she lifted the rifle up slowly. Rose glanced at her and then back to the creature that was now rounding the corner and coming through the space between the houses and into the front yard. It was a deer - or, perhaps, it used to be, a long time ago. The flesh-pink creature boasted two heads from its neck, one of them drooping a bit lower than the other. Rose heard Marcy cock the rifle, and looked to see her aim down the sights carefully.

“You’re just gonna kill it?” Rose asked naively.

“Tch,” Marcy shot her a sidelong glance. “You want breakfast, don’t you?” Rose answered the question by plugging her ears.

Marcy fired a shot which hit the radstag in one of its shoulders. It tumbled forward, letting out a loud mewl, before trying and half-succeeding to regain its footing. Marcy pulled the bolt back on the rifle to reload as the creature began stumbling away as quickly as its three uninjured limbs would allow, but at that moment, Dogmeat sprung from his hiding spot in the grass and gave chase. Rose watched him strike at the deer’s throat, pulling it downward towards the ground. Marcy finished reloading the rifle and shot again, this time catching the deer in the neck, just under its jaw. It dropped to the ground, giving one last loud bleat before collapsing for good.

Rose helped Marcy drag the carcass all the way back to the little yellow house that now served as the settlement’s HQ. The other members of their group were just starting to stir, Preston included. He was crouched by the fire pit, stoking it back to life when he looked up to spot the pair of women as they carried the radstag over to one of the workbenches that had been repurposed into something like a butcher’s table.

“Need a hand?” Preston asked, rising from the fireside and rubbing his bare hands together.

“No, thanks,” Marcy answered, her voice strained slightly by the weight of the animal. Rose helped her sling it up and onto the table.

“I knew we were keeping you around for something,” Preston teased her, approaching the table, and Marcy elbowed him, feigning annoyance. Preston had a way about him that seemed to bring out the best in their little group.

“Yeah, well, it’s your turn to show the rookie how to make breakfast,” she told him, wiping her hands on a rag before heading back inside the house.

“She seems like she’s in a decent mood today,” Rose thought aloud.

“She has her good days,” Preston agreed, tying an apron around himself and turning to the table. “So, you ready?”

Rose stared at the large animal and nodded finally. The group had been showing her how to skin and clean several different kinds of animals for food, but this radstag was considerably bigger than anything she’d worked on before, and the dirty work of actually breaking down an animal’s body for food made her squeamish. She and Preston spent the better part of an hour dismantling the animal, her gag reflex interrupting their work only twice. They handed over the edible bits to Mama Murphy and Sturges for cooking and set aside the skin for tanning. Better to get as much as they could out of the kill.

For the first time since they’d arrived in Sanctuary, everyone in the group had enough to eat. Rose took the radstag as a good omen. A good meal to start the first day of the return to her journey. She made sure to thank Marcy, who seemed annoyed by her gratitude. Rose packed what little belongings she had from the shared sleeping quarters. She’d traded out her duffel bag for a knapsack she’d found in a cellar of one of the other houses. It was easier to carry than the duffel bag, and more secure. She’d also equipped a holster on her side for her pistol, and a belt with pouches around her waist for stimpaks, a canteen, and other miscellaneous smaller items.

She said farewell to everyone in the group, each of them sending her off in their own unique ways. Sturges wished her luck and pulled her in for a big hug and a pat on the back. Marcy hardly looked up from her work in the garden, but Jun paused and waved shyly at her from across the plot. Mama Murphy opened her arms and beckoned for a brief hug, and when Rose leaned down to oblige her, the old woman whispered something in her ear.

“When you find your boy, make sure you tell him he’s got a whole family waiting for him.”

“Thank you,” Rose whispered back to her.

When she pulled back, Mama Murphy had a hand on Rose’s forearm, pressing something into her palm. “It’s not much, but it’ll get you a hot meal when you get where you’re going,” the old woman smiled sweetly.

Rose opened her fingers to see a small pouch. Caps. “Mama Murphy, you don’t have to -”

“Hush,” she held a finger up to Rose to stop her protesting.

Finally, Rose tucked the pouch into her bag, along with the rest of her collection. “Thank you,” she said again, and squeezed the woman’s hand before turning to go.

Rose found Preston stationed at his makeshift guardpost at the front of the neighborhood, just before the bridge.

“We’ll probably have more people with us by the time you get back,” he said, his voice betraying the smile he was forcing. “Hope so, anyway. Sturges is almost through working the bugs out of his broadcast tower plans.”

“You sound worried,” Rose observed, watching Dogmeat sniff around the yard of a nearby house.

“I am,” he confessed, rubbing the back of his neck. “I want to help people, and I want to build something here, but there’s always the potential for raiders, or super mutants, to come and tear it all down. And I’m worried for you,” he told her.

She considered him for a moment. “I would ask you to come with me, but I know they need you here.”

“Dogmeat will take care of you,” Preston assured her and she smiled. The two of them started across the bridge at a leisurely pace, Dogmeat following closely behind. “But hey, just keep your head down. Don’t engage anything you don’t absolutely have to. There’s a lot of danger out there, but there are also good people. I hope we’re proof of that. I know you are. People in towns or settlements will be willing to help you, mostly. Just be careful. From what I remember, Diamond City is in the middle of Boston. Just keep in mind, there’s a reason we left Quincy, and a reason we tend to avoid the Boston ruins. The closer you get to the city’s center, the more danger you risk running into. But that’s the cost of reaching Diamond City. I’ve never been there, but you hear things, on the road, from the caravaneers. Supposedly they’ve got a pretty well-protected perimeter around it. If you can get that far, I think it’s safe to say, you’ve got a pretty good chance.”

Rose made mental notes of his advice. “Thank you, Preston. I’ll do my best.”

“One more thing,” he added and she turned to face him. “We both know I’m in your debt, but I was wondering if you could check on something for me, if you get the chance.”

“Sure,” Rose nodded.

“As I’m sure you know, I want to rebuild the Minutemen. But I can’t do it alone. Before we got to Concord, I got a distress signal from a settlement just south of here, couple of miles. I know you’ve got a lot on your plate, which is why I wanted to make sure you know that you’re not obligated. But if you could check on them for me, I would appreciate it. I also wanted to offer you a position with us, if you felt up to it.” Rose shifted her weight uneasily, looking off to the side. “Look, I know it’s a lot to think about, especially on top of finding your son. I know that gets first priority. But if you decide to take the job, I promise you that helping you find your son would also be a priority for us. And it would be a chance to do some real good for the people of the Commonwealth.”

“No pressure,” Rose scoffed. “I appreciate the offer Preston, but… it is a lot to think about.”

“You don’t have to give me an answer now. Sleep on it.”

“Okay,” she sighed. “I’ll check on them. If I make it back in one piece.” She huffed wryly and Preston patted her on the back.

“I know you will.”

Chapter Text

Rose wiped her forehead as she stared at the pile of bodies she’d moved to the hallway of the abandoned apartment floor. Her nose was tucked into her Vault suit again, beads of sweat dripping from her face and down her neck and back. She’d gone into the building thinking - hoping - it was abandoned, only to find a whole mess of ghouls inside. It just had to be ghouls, she thought. She stopped and placed her hands on her hips. At least ghouls were predictable. Raiders, not so much.

    She flopped herself down on the broken sofa in the living room of the apartment she’d decided to stay in for the night, coughing when the action sent dust motes into the air. Dogmeat joined her, and she absently stroked his fur as she stared out the broken kitchen window across the room. The sun was low on the horizon, and she thought back to the events of the day before. She’d ended up helping a woman, Trudy, and her son, fend off a pair of raiders that were after them over a debt the boy owed the chem-pushers. In exchange for her help, Trudy offered Rose some supplies for the road, and the promise that she would be welcome back anytime at the rest stop. It was a place that the caravans frequented, one of the last trading outposts out so far from the city. Naturally, she took Trudy’s side.

Rose was surprised to see the old Drumlin Diner still standing; she and Nate had frequented it long ago, on late night trips back from Boston. The main roads were generally intact in spite of cracks and crumbles and plant life bursting free from them, but the interstate was almost completely destroyed. It would’ve been Rose’s fastest route into the city center, but it was a ghost of its former self, towering into the sky only in gnarled fragments of metal and concrete. She could hear the structure groaning in the wind just being underneath it.

    Rose sighed and closed her eyes. She was moving toward Diamond City at a snail’s pace. It’d taken her almost two days just to get to Lexington. Getting to Diamond City safely would be better than not arriving at all, but she couldn’t help the impatience that pulled at her during quiet moments like this. What would she even find if she got there? Raiders? More people like Preston and his group? Or, someone who knew something about the man who’d killed Nate. She leaned forward to retrieve a Nuka Cola from her pack, popping the cap free and storing it in her pouch, then taking a sip of the syrupy liquid. I won’t get my hopes up, she promised herself.

    She chewed a piece of the jerky she’d received from Trudy as she set the alarm on her Pip-Boy for 6 AM. A breeze came through the window and she breathed it in, trying to relax. Sleep evaded her for several hours, and she became restless. The silence of the empty apartment was ringing in her ears, and her mind was swimming with all of her unanswered questions again. She realized after a while that she’d been chewing her nails down to the beds when she tasted blood and looked down to see a cuticle torn open and bloody. She turned instead to her Pip-Boy, and remembered the game cartridge she’d taken with her from Vault 111. She unzipped her bag to search for it, fumbling through the various compartments, and finally her fingers landed on the thing.

    She pulled the orange cartridge from her pack only to realize that it wasn’t the Red Menace one, but rather the one Codsworth had given to her, the one from Nate. Her heart dropped into her stomach. She’d all but forgotten about it in the chaos of the past couple of weeks. She stared at it for a long time, holding it delicately in her hand, imagining what she might hear if she popped it into the Pip-Boy. To hear Nate’s voice again…

    She swallowed hard as she popped open the Pip-Boy’s tape player and set the cartridge inside, narrowing her brows at the stubbornness of the lump in her throat. Her finger hovered over the play/pause button only for a second before pressing it down, and after a moment she was startled by the sound of loud feedback from a microphone, followed by Nate’s voice. Dogmeat perked his head up and cocked it to the side in response, and Rose’s hands fumbled with the volume knob to turn it down.

    “Oops,” Nate laughed. “No, no, no, little fingers away,” his voice was gentle and then Rose heard happy sounds from her infant son. Tears flooded her eyes. “There we go. Just say it. Right there, go ahead,” he encouraged a cooing Shaun who then giggled, and so did Nate. “Yay! Hi, honey -”

    Rose quickly ejected the tape and dropped it into her bag before pulling her legs up to her chest. She breathed heavy sobs, her frame shaking uncontrollably. Dogmeat inched over to her and pawed at her arm until she put her legs down and let him crawl into her lap. She rode out her wave of sadness and decided to turn on the radio again, hoping a little bit of music would help. She found the Diamond City frequency again, and turned the volume down low, letting some soft swing melody sing her to sleep.

 


 

    Hours later, Rose awoke to the sound of the alarm on her Pip-Boy. She squinted, prodding at the too-bright screen, and eventually found the ‘dismiss’ option. She rubbed her bleary eyes and yawned. She was thankful for the mostly dreamless sleep, and stretched as she sat up on the couch. Dogmeat had moved to the floor beside her at some point during the night. He poked his head up when he noticed her stirring, and she leaned down to give his head a few scritches.

    Rose went to the boarded-up window and peered through the slits. The sun was just beginning its way up above the horizon. She retrieved a handful of jerky and ate her breakfast with one hip propped up on the windowsill, listening to the silence of the morning. She shared a couple of pieces with Dogmeat, not wanting him to have to go hungry. She pilfered through the cabinets of the long-abandoned apartment, finding little of interest, save for an almost empty bobby pin box, and a packet of bubblegum. She packed up her belongings and stepped out of the apartment building, pulling the door closed behind her.  

 

Chapter Text

    Rose tried to stop her hands from shaking. She clutched the pistol close to her chest, trying to breathe as quietly as possible. She’d been wandering through the city for hours now, trying to locate Diamond City, but the roads were almost impossible to navigate. Buildings had fallen over and blocked off entire streets, some roads had given way to large sinkholes, others were obstructed by buses or cars that she would rather not have to climb through or over and risk being detected by some danger of the wasteland. She’d seen the warning signs of Raider territory that the group in Sanctuary had warned her about: heads on pikes, bodies hanging from streetlights. The back alleys were full of ghouls, but they were manageable at least, especially with Dogmeat’s help. It had taken her twice as long to make any headway by sneaking through alleyways and through empty storefronts as it would’ve if she could’ve had a straight shot to her destination. Destination, what destination? She wasn’t even exactly sure where she was headed, just that she had a vague idea of what to look for once she got close enough. She’d been so focused on avoiding danger that she’d accidentally wandered right into it.

    She had practically thrown herself down to hide behind a mangled car frame in time to avoid being seen by a group of super mutants at the intersection up ahead. Rose could hear her heart pounding in her ears. They were terrifying; hulking green figures with booming and garbled voices, and something had already agitated them. Dogmeat waited anxiously at her side, ready to engage at her signal. The gunfire up ahead was growing louder and more frequent the longer she stayed behind the car. Her initial hope was to wait it out - perhaps they were sparring with Raiders for territory - but the idea of having to risk encountering the winner of the skirmish terrified her as much as anything else.

    Her tiny frame lurched at the sound of a sudden explosion, which was then followed by the furious war cry of a mutant swearing revenge for his fallen brother. It was less words than that of course - Preston had also mentioned that what they lacked in brains they definitely made up for in strength and cruelty.

    “Make sure they don’t reach the city gates!”

    Rose’s head snapped to the side, in the direction of a man’s voice echoing down one of the sidestreets near her. She laid all the way down on her belly and crawled underneath the car to get a better look. She heard boots against pavement, and then saw a group of men coming around to flank the super mutants. Their makeshift armor consisted entirely of baseball gear - umpire regalia specifically, complete with helmets and bats poking out of their backpacks. Her stomach jumped up into her throat. Could these be Diamond City’s guards? She pictured this street from her time; if you made a left at the intersection up ahead, it was a straight shot to Fenway Park.

    “No way,” she whispered to herself, imagining the park in its prime, now probably severely altered by time and radiation, but still functional enough for people to reclaim it as their own and build a city inside of it.  She looked on as the troop of guards continued down the street towards the super mutants, and took them by surprise with heavy gunfire. Rose crawled back out from under the car and steadied herself behind the mess of metal. She waited for the sounds of battle to quiet before poking her head up over the car just enough to see if the coast was clear. She heard the guards shouting directions, and sighed in relief that they’d won.

    She whistled for Dogmeat to follow and broke into a slow jog towards the intersection. Sure enough, there were signs posted with hand-painted lettering indicating that Diamond City was up ahead. There were also a lot of super mutant corpses now starting to rot in the sun. Rose rounded a street corner, holding her breath from the smell, and was met with the sight of the two groups of guards starting a cleanup effort. One of them turned and met eyes with her, then raised his gun and aimed down the sights at her.

    “Stop! Put your hands up!” He shouted, causing the others to turn their attention towards her. Rose almost tripped over her own feet out of surprise, but she complied, and threw her hands up in the air.

    “Wait, please, I’m just trying to get to Diamond City,” she told them in a tremulous voice. Dogmeat stopped in front of her, leaning his body against her legs like a protective barrier, but he was showing submissive body language.

    “On what business?” the same guard asked her. Rose swallowed, her mouth unable to form words. “Hey, didn’t you hear me? What business do you have in the city?” He was more agitated now.

    “Oh, lay off her, would ya?”

Rose’s eyes flitted to a woman she hadn’t noticed before. She was garbed in a long, red leather coat and a newsboy cap. A cigarette was perched loosely between two of her fingers, and she approached the guard nonchalantly, then pushed the barrel of his gun off to the side with a single finger. The guard made a face at her but she stared him down.

“Can’t you see you’re scarin’ her to death? Surely you’ve got bigger fish to fry.” The woman’s voice was firm but her whole demeanor had an air of sarcasm. Rose let out the breath she’d been holding, looking between the guard and the woman.

“I don’t remember McDonough putting you in charge, Ms Wright. Haven’t you caused enough trouble today?” He argued gruffly, and she crossed her arms and shifted her weight to one leg.

“Apparently not,” she countered. “Although, I’m sure if I reported you guys to the Mayor for threatening to shoot down harmless civilians on his front lawn, I might just meet my quota for the day.”

“Tch,” the leader of the group snorted. “Don’t make me laugh. Like he’d believe a word outta your mouth anyway.” The coarse man shifted his weight and slung his rifle over his shoulder, signaling the rest of his squad to follow. “Run along now, Piper. Wouldn’t want your paper to be discontinued due to a work-related injury.” His face was twisted into a self-righteous smirk, but Piper rolled her eyes at him. “Miss, you’re free to go,” he gestured first to Rose before turning away. Rose finally let her hands slowly fall to her sides and watched the group of guards leave.

“Well, that’s over. Hope you enjoyed the warm welcome,” Piper sighed in frustration. Rose turned to her and raised an eyebrow when Dogmeat approached her as soon as the woman held out her hand to him. Piper scratched behind his ears.

“Why’d you stick your neck out for me?” Rose asked her. Piper looked up at Rose with a wry grin.

“Why do you think?” she answered with a question, then gestured to Dogmeat. He stared up at Rose expectantly.

“So, you have friends all over, then,” Rose sighed, shaking her head lightly. The dog responded with a short bark and a wag of his tail.

“He gets around,” Piper agreed. “Lucky for you.” The woman straightened up and held out her hand to Rose. “Piper Wright,” she said with a genuine smile. “Head author of Diamond City’s best and only newspaper,” she continued proudly.

“Rose,” she reached out to shake the reporter’s hand. “Halloran. Thanks for saving my ass. You didn’t have to do that.”

“Don’t mention it,” Piper waved her off. “Besides, you’re gonna pay me back with an interview for my paper.” Piper turned on her heel and started towards the city gates before Rose could respond. Still stunned, Rose adjusted the bag on her back and followed after Piper, with Dogmeat in tow.

“Wait a minute,” Rose requested as she caught up to Piper’s side. “An interview?”

“That’s right,” she confirmed. “That vault suit of yours gave me the perfect idea for the next issue of Publick Occurrences .”

“Oh,” Rose said, looking down at her outfit. Despite her attempt to cover her suit with the army jacket, it still stuck out from the wasteland-typical fashion she’d encountered so far. “Why?”

“Because you’re from a vault! I haven’t met anyone who isn’t curious about what it’s like down in those things. Especially if they’re still functional after all this time. I want to share your story with my readers.”

“Oh,” Rose uttered. “Wait. How do you know for sure that I’m from a vault? I could’ve stolen the suit.”

“Please,” Piper chuckled. “Nobody capable of stealing that suit or breaking into a vault would be that genuinely afraid of Diamond City’s guards.” Piper looked impishly to Rose then, and caught the unamused look on her face. “No offense,” she said apologetically.

“None taken,” Rose acknowledged with a sigh, though her pride had been a little wounded. It wasn’t like Piper was wrong, after all, but the last thing Rose wanted was to come across like a deer in the headlights.

“Anyway, your interview can be totally confidential, if you want,” Piper suggested.

“Oh, well… I’ll… have to think about it.”

The three of them approached the huge green metal door that covered the opening to the city. It was secured with two large mechanical arms that held it in place, attached to a rig that would presumably lift and fold it up above the entrance, something like an industrial-sized garage door. Rose gawked at the massive structure. She’d guessed correctly: this was Fenway Park, and at some point, someone had come along and turned it into a fortress. Piper noticed Rose’s astonishment and smirked at her.

“So, what brings you to the Great Green Jewel of the Commonwealth, anyway?” she asked as she led Rose to a panel on the wall beside the metal door.

“I’m looking for someone, and I don’t have any leads, but a friend told me that I should start here.”

Piper raised an eyebrow at her. “Well, Diamond City’s as good a place as any to start, but it’s going to be a lot harder without any leads. Fortunately for you, we also have the best and only detective this side of the Commonwealth.” As she pressed down one of the buttons on the panel, Piper flashed a grin at Rose, whose eyes had grown wide at the mention of a detective. Piper then brought up a hand to cradle her chin in thought. “Haven’t seen him in a few days, though, now that I think about it…”

Rose opened her mouth to speak but was cut off by the sound of static coming through the callbox on the door panel, followed by a young man’s voice.

“You have reached Diamond City. Please state your name and reason for coming to the city,” he recited. Piper pressed the call button down.

“Hey, Danny. It’s Piper. I’ve, eh, got a plus one with me.”

“Piper? Oh, uh, I’m… sorry Miss Wright, but I can’t open the gate for you,” the voice on the other end of the line responded nervously. Piper’s eyes narrowed and she leaned into the panel.

“What do you mean, you can’t open the gate?” The irritation was clear in her voice.

No answer. Piper pinched the bridge of her nose.

“Stop playin’ around, Danny! We’re standin’ out in the open here, for cryin’ out loud!” the end of her demand was spoken through gritted teeth.

“I got orders not to let you in, Miss Piper. I’m sorry. I’m just doing my job.” the voice said defensively.

“Ooh~! Just doing your job?” Piper threw her hands up in mock astonishment. “Protecting Diamond City means keeping me out? Oh, look! It’s the scary reporter!” she cried out sardonically. “Boo!” she huffed into the microphone.

“I’m sorry, but Mayor McDonough’s really steamed, Piper. Sayin’ that article you wrote’s all lies. The whole town is in a tizzy.”

“Urgh!” Piper stamped her foot. “You open this gate right now, Danny Sullivan!” she jabbed a sharp finger towards the callbox. “I live here! You can’t just lock me out!” She then growled in frustration. “I can wait all day,” she promised in a low voice, clapping her hands together before turning back to Rose, wearing a frown.

“Now what?” Rose asked, and Piper pursed her lips together. Rose watched her expression change after a moment of thought.

“Play along,” Piper instructed her quietly before leaning back towards the callbox. “What’s that? You said you’re a trader up from Quincy? You have enough supplies to keep the general store stocked for a whole month? Huh. You hear that, Danny? You gonna open the gate and let us in, or are you gonna be the one talkin’ to craaazy Myrna about losin’ out on all the new supplies again?” Piper wore a cocky smile, her words biting.

“Jeez, all right ,” Danny sighed into the mic. “No need to make it personal, Piper. Gimme a minute.” Rose stared at Piper in awe. She was just as formidable as the top reporters from two hundred years ago, but she had even more moxie than some of them did. Piper grinned and stood up tall, with her hands on her hips, clearly proud of her work.

“Well, I don’t think I’ve ever been so impressed and so intimidated at the same time. Remind me not to get on your bad side,” Rose let out a nervous laugh and Piper snorted. The two of them turned towards the metal door at the sound of its machinery starting up.

“Better head inside quick before ole’ Danny catches onto the bluff,” Piper instructed.

“You first,” Rose gestured for Piper to walk ahead with a shy grin.

“Wouldn’t have it any other way.” Piper turned on her heel and strutted ahead into the city’s entrance, formerly Fenway Park’s main ticket gate. Rose followed close behind, double checking to make sure Dogmeat was still padding along beside her.

To her surprise, the turnstiles were still in place, though most of the plastic flappers had rotted off, and the green paint had mostly peeled away. The escalators had long-since stopped functioning, and creaked beneath her and Piper’s feet. They were met with a booming voice when they reached the top.

“Piper! Who let you back inside? I told Sullivan to keep that gate shut!”

“Ohhh boy,” Piper sighed quietly. “Here we go.”

Rose poked her head around Piper’s shoulder to see a rather upset middle-aged gentleman in a plain brown suit and a fedora practically charging toward her.

“You devious, rabble-rousing slanderer! The level of dishonesty in that paper of yours! I’ll have that printer scrapped for parts!” The heavy-set gentleman shuffled towards them, arms flailing in anger.

“Oooh, that a statement, Mr. McDonough? Tyrant mayor shuts down the press?” Piper taunted him with a devilish grin. “Why don’t we ask the newcomer? Do you support the news? ‘Cause the Mayor’s threatenin’ to throw free speech in the dumpster!” Piper turned to Rose unexpectedly, taking her by surprise. She fumbled for a moment, now that all eyes were on her, but found her answer.

“I - yes, I’ve always believed in freedom of the press,” Rose said convincingly, with a nod.

“Oh, well, I didn’t mean to bring you into this argument, miss,” McDonough said to Rose as if he’d just noticed her, putting up his hands innocently. “No, no, no… you look like Diamond City material!” he flashed a grin at her, now standing too close for comfort. He reached out to offer her his hand and she shook it politely but his grip remained, his palm clammy against hers. “Welcome to the Great Green Jewel of the Commonwealth! Safe. Happy. A fine place to come, spend your money, settle down. Don’t let this muckraker here tell you otherwise, alright?” He insisted, his voice stern but otherwise fairly jovial. Rose finally retrieved her hand from his slimy grip and tucked it into her pocket.

“What are you two arguing about, anyway?” Rose ventured carefully.

“What d’ya think?” Piper threw up her hands in exasperation. “Print lies and everybody’s happy, but if you print the truth…” she trailed off, and McDonough waved her aside.

“Ahem,” McDonough cleared his throat, obviously trying to excuse Piper from the conversation. He straightened out his vest. “Now, was there anything in particular you came to our city for?” he asked.

“Well, I’m… Trying to find someone.”

“Oh? Who is it that you’re looking for?”

“Who would I speak to about finding a missing person?” Rose dodged his question.

“Well, whatever you do,” Piper cut in, shooting the mayor a sideways glance. “Don’t bother going to Diamond City Security for help.”

“Don’t listen to her,” the mayor sputtered. “While I am afraid that our security team can’t follow every case that comes through, I’m confident you can find help here. Diamond City has every conceivable service known to man,” he boasted. “One of our great citizens can surely find the time to help you.”

“Mayor of a great city, you must know everyone,” Rose flashed him her prettiest smile. “Who would be able to help me?”

McDonough glanced down at his watch before answering her. “I’m sorry, miss, I don’t have time for any more questions. I’m sure you understand, I’m a very busy man,” he told her, already turning away to leave. “Enjoy your stay in our fair city!”

Rose narrowed her brows at him and started to object before Piper cut in again.

“You see? This is what I’m talking about!” Piper interjected. “This is ridiculous. The people deserve the truth, McDonough. What’s the real reason security always shrivels away when talk of missing persons comes up?” she followed closely at his side, stepping back when he whirled on her.

“I’ve had enough of this, Piper!” he barked. “From now on, consider you and that little sister of yours on notice,” his annoyance was obvious now, even beneath the shade of his fedora.

“Yeah, keep talkin’, McDonough, it’s all you’re good for,” Piper spat at him, crossing her arms. He made a face at her before finally leaving with a huff.

The two women watched him go stamping down the long, concrete hallway and through a large chain link door at the end of it. He let the metal gate slam shut behind him. Rose sighed wearily.

“Huh, a big Diamond City welcome from the Mayor. You feel honored yet?” Piper asked her, voice full of mock excitement.

“Definitely,” Rose answered flatly. Piper waved for her to follow, and started towards the same gate.

“Look, I gotta go get settled in, but, um, you can follow me to my office if you want,” she offered nonchalantly. “Or you can take a look around the city. Doesn’t matter to me. Either way, I still want that interview.”

“Sure,” Rose nodded. “I’ll just come by now,” she shrugged. “What about that detective you mentioned?”

“Oh, right!” Piper remembered aloud as she held the gate open for Rose and Dogmeat to pass through. “Yeah, I’ll take you to see him after we stop by my office,” Piper assured her.

“Thank you, Piper,” Rose said sincerely.

“No problem,” she answered casually.

The three of them made their way into the city proper. The bombs had destroyed much of the stadium, but there had also been significant repairs, and what couldn’t be repaired had been bypassed or blocked off. They passed through one last door, and Rose found herself standing at the top of a long path of steps that led down into the city center. The whole atmosphere was different from outside the walls; the city was alive, bustling, the faded green paint practically shimmering in the harsh sunlight. Her mouth hung open slightly as she took in the sight of the place. Ramshackle buildings covered what once had been the sprawling playing field, and entire apartments connected by scaffolding had been built into the bleachers and the sides of what once had been concession areas or radio station booths. To her right there had been a lift fashioned out of scrap metal and other mechanical parts that went straight up to the higher levels.

“Might wanna close your mouth before you catch flies,” Piper teased. “Come on. It’s better up-close.”

Chapter Text

    A warm July afternoon, the scents of freshly-popped popcorn, hot dogs, and spilled beer waft through the air. It’s the bottom of the ninth, and the home team is down by two runs. The Boston Red Sox’s Rookie of the year stands at-bat, with two strikes on the board, while all three bases are loaded. The whole stadium is, quite literally, on the edge of their seats, Rose and Nate included. It was only their second date; the July 4th tickets had been on sale for veterans, and Nate had asked Rose to accompany him.

    They watch intently as the pitcher releases the ball from his hand - a fastball - and the Rookie hits it straight-on. The whole crowd gasps collectively as the ball sails through the air toward the far side, and the opposing team’s outfielders leap desperately toward the heavens to catch it, and miss.

    Rose shoots up from her seat along with most everyone else, cheering loudly as the players make their way to home plate; the Rookie jogs his victory lap with his fists held high in the air, and is scooped up by a flood of teammates pouring onto the field, and then lifted into the sky. He’s won the game for them.

    In the excitement of the moment, Rose and Nate turn to each other and collide in an embrace, and then a kiss. Nate pulls away apologetically.

    “I’m sorry,” he says, and he means it. “I didn’t mean to be so forward.” His warm voice just barely cuts through the din. He waits for her response, hoping she isn’t too offended. “Rose?”

 

    “Rose!” Piper’s voice cut through the air. Rose turned to her, blinking away the daydream and clearing her throat.

    “Sorry,” she laughed nervously, tucking a stray hair behind her ear.

    “Did you hear what I said?” Piper asked impatiently, eyeing the spot up in the stands Rose had been staring at. “Well, anyway,” she continued without giving Rose the chance to answer. “If you want the full tour, just let me know.”

    Piper led her down the last of the steps, arriving at last at her office. Rose eyed the rusted over building, two parts of a whole construction, the frontmost piece almost resembling a garage, but acting as a sort of market stall. A little girl garbed in a mishmash of colorful clothing and a pair of goggles about her neck stood on a wooden box at the edge of the storefront, a stack of papers tucked into the crook of her elbow. She turned and saw Piper, and her face lit up. She all but dropped the papers to the ground and rushed towards her.

    “Piper!” the young girl exclaimed, wrapping her arms around Piper’s waist after crashing into her.

    “Ha-hey, kiddo,” Piper chuckled as she returned the girl’s hug and gave her a pat on the back.

    “They said they weren’t gonna let you back in, because of the last issue of the paper!” The girl looked up at Piper with narrowed brows.

What the hell was in that paper that was so upsetting? Rose wondered to herself, eyeing the stack of papers Nat had left on the ground, and hoping she’d get a chance to read it.

    “What, you didn’t really think they were gonna keep me out, didja?” Piper smiled wryly at her and tousled her hair, causing the girl to laugh. “Rose, this is my baby sister, Nat.”

“Hello,” Rose smiled warmly at her. “Nice to meet you.”

Nat returned the gesture with a timid grin.

“How are sales?” Piper asked, turning to lead everyone inside the office, Nat right at her side.

    “They’re fine, I guess,” Nat shrugged, leaning down to pick up her stack of papers as the four of them passed her soapbox. “But the presses are getting overloaded again. That motor is going to go soon if we don’t replace it,” she warned.

    “Ah, you’ve been saying that for weeks, and the old girl still keeps cranking,” Piper waved her off.

    “But Piper,” Nat argued.

    “Stop worrying so much,” Piper said coolly. “We gotta head into the office for an interview for the next issue, so you start whistling if you see any angry politicians coming our way,” Piper instructed casually, turning the handle of the door inside the garage that led to the inner sanctum of the building.

    “Fine,” Nat sighed.

    “Atta girl,” Piper grinned at her before stepping inside the office. Nat held out one of the latest issues of the paper to Rose and she hesitated before taking it.

    “Free paper to newcomers,” Nat told her nonchalantly.

    “Oh, thank you.”

    “If the Institute grabs you in the night, don’t say we didn’t warn you,” she added. Rose almost laughed in surprise of the girl’s conviction.

“I’m sorry,” Rose suppressed her shock. “Who’s the Institute?”

Nat’s eyes got as wide as dinner plates. “You ain’t heard of the Institute, lady? They snatch people up in the night, and no one hears from them again! It’s all in the paper,” Nat said, leaning in closer. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Better read up, before they grab you, too,” Nat spoke behind her hand, then straightened up and casually checked her surroundings.

“Who’s gone missing?” Rose remembered what Piper had said about the city’s security force being unwilling to help find people.

“Drifters, residents,” she counted on her fingers. “Stadium seat snobs,” she sneered before turning serious again. “Seems every year or so, someone’s gone, and we all know why.”

Rose felt her stomach churn at that.

“So you better be careful, newcomer. Institute’s out there, and they’ll grab you, too. Like I said, it’s all in the paper.”

“The one everyone is so upset about?” Rose asked, turning the booklet over in her hands.

“Yeah. They’re just a bunch of conformists who don’t want to listen to the truth,” Nat grumbled before turning to walk back to her box. She stopped suddenly, though, and turned back to Rose with one eyebrow raised.

“Why is my sister interviewing you ? I mean, you don’t even know about the Institute.

“Well, I know more about them than I did five minutes ago, thanks to you, and I’ll know even more after I read your paper,” Rose countered. Nat and Piper were definitely related. “And apparently she wants to interview me because I’m from a vault,” she gestured to the suit under her army jacket. Nat’s expression changed from apathetic to impressed. “Though I’m not sure I’m going to be able to give her the answers she’s probably looking for,” Rose sighed, thinking back to Vault 111. Surely, among the hundreds of other vaults that existed, there were some that hadn’t been built for the express purpose of torturing its inhabitants by turning them into lab rats. After all, some of them had to have survived long enough that Piper was familiar with what the residents’ uniforms looked like.

“Huh,” Nat said. “You’re a real sheep in the wolf’s den, lady,” Nat shook her head, a disparaging grin creasing her lips, then finally left Rose alone with her thoughts.

“You don’t know how right you are, kiddo,” she sighed, and gathered Dogmeat to follow her.

Rose turned to follow Piper inside the office, a little concerned about Nat’s mention of Institute kidnapping. She waited for Dogmeat to step inside before shutting the door behind them. Piper had lit a cigarette, the smoke flowing up through the cracks in the ceiling. Dogmeat took to inspecting the office by sniffing around, while Rose stood awkwardly in the corner of the room, clutching the paper in her hands. She surveyed the room, finding a real, working printing press in the opposite corner of the room beside a set of stairs. The place was a mess of mismatched planks of wood, scrap metal, and cinder blocks, as well as worn furniture Rose would’ve expected to find in someone’s living room and kitchen, including a fridge that had obviously been refurbished, a small table with two chairs, and some cabinets.  

    “Make yourself at home,” Piper suggested, gesturing to a worn red sofa with a wave of her hand, sending up a thin smoke trail from the cigarette. “You’ve probably come a long way from whatever vault you cropped up out of.”

“That’s an understatement,” Rose said flatly as she obliged, removing her pack and setting it down on the floor beside the sofa before taking a seat. She sunk into the cushioning of the couch, surprised at how comfortable it was. She breathed a sigh of relief at the chance to relax after days of walking or running around and sleeping on dirty mattresses.

“Thirsty?” Piper asked, already headed towards the fridge.

“Parched,” Rose answered. Piper tucked her cigarette between her lips before retrieving two bottles of Nuka Cola from inside the fridge. She popped the cap off the first bottle and handed it to Rose before preparing her own.

Rose thanked her before taking a big swig. The stuff had always been better cold. The refreshment was a small comfort to her. She took another look at the copy of the paper Nat had handed to her.

The Synthetic Truth, ” she read the title aloud and opened to the first page.

“My best work yet,” Piper boasted playfully, taking another drag of her cigarette and then a sip from her cola.

Rose gave a short laugh through her nose and began reading the handwritten script.

'Noodles. We all eat them. We all love them. And Diamond City's Power Noodles has supplied this sustenance for the past fifteen years. From the stilted mechanical cadence of Takahashi's programmed Japanese, to the fragrant steam that wafts from each bowl, to the scalding tang of each delicious mouthful - the ordering and eating of noodles is but one of many shared human experiences. Or is it?

I was struck by this very question as I sat at the counter of Power Noodles last Wednesday night, just after 5:00 pm, enjoying a dinner I had so many times before. That's when I noticed our very own Mayor McDonough sidle up to a stool, and engage in the very same ritual. Right hand extending. Mouth opening. Teeth chewing. Yes, eating noodles. The shared experience of almost every Diamond City resident.'

“Power noodles?” Rose asked, looking up at Piper. “That must be what I smelled on the way in. I’m surprised you didn’t hear my stomach growling,” she joked drily.

“Oh yeah? Well, we can go grab a bowl after this, if you want. I would’ve offered you something to eat but I think Nat polished off the last of our groceries while I was out.”

“Noodles sound great, actually,” Rose nodded, and continued to read. Piper waited patiently, her cigarette hanging in the crook between two fingers, as Rose turned page after page in silence.

'So it must have also seemed to the residents of Diamond City nearly sixty years ago, on an uncharacteristically warm May evening in 2229, as they sat around this very same counter. But that was before the days of Takahashi and his noodles, when the bar served not noodles, but ice cold Nuka-Colas, frothy beers and stiff shots of whiskey. The barman's name was Henry, and that night, he facilitated the shared human experiences of drinking, smoking, talking and laughing. That is, until tragedy struck.

There aren't many among us who are even old enough to remember that evening - although some of the city's Ghoul residents certainly could have, had they not been forcibly removed, thanks to Mayor McDonough's anti-Ghoul decree of 2282. But there is one person among us who does remember, distinctly, the events of that evening: respected matriarch Eustace Hawthorne, who recounted her story in a Publick Occurrences exclusive interview.'

“Okay, you mentioned here that Mayor McDonough started an anti-ghoul initiative in 2282. Why did he do that?”

“He just… doesn’t like them. The whole reason he got elected was because he promised the snobs in the upper stands that he would get rid of all the ghouls in the city. People are afraid of what they don’t understand, and, well… the concept non-feral ghouls is kind of hard to accept for some people. McDonough preyed on that fear and used it to his advantage. It’s actually what drove a wedge between him and his brother, John. When McDonough kicked out all the ghouls, John left with them, and ended up emigrating to Goodneighbor. Of course, John’s the ringleader over there now,” Piper chuckled flippantly.

“Goodneighbor?”

“Oh, it’s this little town northeast of here, kind of a hole in the wall. Run by ghouls, mostly. Criminals file in and out of there too, and other people that don’t fit McDonough’s status quo.”

“Right,” Rose noted before she continued reading again.

'"Oh, I was there all right. Sitting right at the bar, sure as you're sitting in front of me know. Twenty-two years old or so, and just looking to have a good time. I was safe behind the Wall - we all were - so what was the harm? And let me tell you, that Mr. Carter made it easy. He came into town earlier that day, said he was from out west somewhere. It didn't really matter. What did matter was his smile, and his laugh, and the way he'd make everyone feel at ease. That night, at the bar, we all just sort of crowded around him. Everyone wanted to exchange a word, or hear about the state of the Commonwealth. And Mr. Carter, he was all too happy to oblige. It was just so wonderful. Until it wasn't."

Eustace continued her account of that evening, and the moment when things turned sinister, and the truth about Mr. Carter was revealed.

"We'd been drinking, and carrying on, must have been three hours. Mr. Carter had four or five drinks in that time. He seemed a bit drunk, I guess, like the rest of us. Then something just sort of happened. He was smiling, but the smile sort of went from his face, all in an instant. And then his cheek started twitching, kind of funny. And I remember watching him, clear as if it happened just yesterday. He reached inside his coat, took out a revolver, and then 'Blam!'- He shot Henry, the barman, right in the head. Didn't hesitate, didn't show any emotion- Mr. Carter killed Henry as casually as if he were paying him for a drink. But his cheek never did stop twitching. Let me tell you, all Hell broke loose after that."

What Eustace is describing is, of course, is the infamous event known as the "Broken Mask," when the people of the Commonwealth learned for the first time that the Institute, the shadowy scientific organization responsible for the creation of combat androids, had actually succeeded in creating a model so advanced, it could effortlessly infiltrate human society. Unbeknownst to the people of Diamond City, the Institute had somehow evolved their androids into true synthetic humans. Synths.

"After he shot Henry, that Mr. Carter shot three or four other people, too. Like I said, all Hell broke loose. The guards came running, they opened fire, and Mr. Carter he kept shooting, and throwing people around left and right. Finally, those guards put him down. Seemed like they had killed a man who had flipped his lid. Gone crazy. And he lay there like a dead crazy man, sure enough. God, it was horrible. But then we saw the plastic, and the metal- this was one of them early synths, you see - and we realized it wasn't a man at all. It was then we all knew. The Institute wasn't just 'out there'. The Institute was everywhere now. Among us."'

Apprehension coiled at the base of Rose's spine.

'It was never determined precisely why the synth known as Mr. Carter went on his killing spree. Some suggested he had somehow been remotely controlled by the Institute, who wanted to test his combat effectiveness. Still others felt he had simply malfunctioned (a hypothesis supported by the twitching cheek), and was never meant to kill anyone. But at that time, the "why" hardly seemed important. What mattered was that the humans of the Commonwealth had been truly infiltrated by an organization whose intentions were, and still are, a complete mystery - using a model of synth even less advanced than the ones the Institute has in service today.

Which brings us to noodles. Specifically, the noodles consumed by Mayor McDonough last Wednesday night, in the same spot that Mr. Carter the synth went haywire, and mercilessly killed several people - after spending hours sharing an experience the people of Diamond City assumed was reserved for members of the human race. They were wrong.

 Are we?’

 

Rose stared at the last two words. She swallowed nervously. She flipped the paper closed and set it in her lap.

“So? What’d you think? You met McDonough. Am I crazy, or is something off about him?”

“Well, if that’s what your intuition tells you, I think there’s value in hearing that out, but I’ve only spoken to him once. I couldn’t say for sure. Plus, there’s the issue of the validity of your accusations. Sure, your gut tells you that he might be an infiltrator sent by the Institute, but unless you’ve got concrete evidence, it’s going to seem like little more than slander to his cronies.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me,” she groaned in frustration. “Hey, did they have some kind of super library in your vault?"

“Not exactly,” Rose snorted. “Why? Is this part of my interview?” She joked and Piper suppressed a laugh.

“Okay, off-the-record then,” she conceded. “You just sound a lot more… well-read than most people on the surface, even other vault dwellers I’ve met.”

“Well, thank you, but… no, there weren’t many opportunities for reading in my vault,” Rose sighed, glancing at the floor. One of Piper’s eyebrows quirked up, as if she were waiting for more of an explanation than that. “It’s… kind of a long story.”

“Oh, I’ve got time,” Piper teased before crossing the room.

“So, there are other people cropping up out of other vaults? Vaults that are still functional?” Rose wondered quietly.

“Oh yeah,” Piper nodded, puffing thin streams of smoke through her nose. “That’s what they say, anyway. No idea why anybody would wanna leave the safety of a vault to come live up on the surface. I mean, the wildlife is just so lovely,” she quipped, putting out her cigarette in an ashtray atop a chest of drawers before pulling open the top drawer to retrieve a notepad and a pen.

“I guess that’s why I’m here, right? You want my answer to that question?” Rose asked, setting her copy of The Synthetic Truth on the side table next to the sofa.

    “Well, in a way, yes,” Piper agreed noncommittally as she settled in to a black leather chair directly across from Rose. “Here’s the deal: I want your life story in print. I think it’s time Diamond City had a little outside perspective on the Commonwealth. You do that, and I’ll take you to see Detective Valentine, just like I promised. I’ll even do you one better,” Piper smiled excitedly. Rose raised her eyebrows in surprise. “I’ll even come with you, when I’m not busy. Watch your back while you get used to the world above ground,” she concluded with a casual shrug.

    “Oh, Piper, you don’t have to do that, you barely know me,” Rose protested gently, taken aback by her generous offer.

    “Hey, relax. I wouldn’t have offered if I didn’t want to do it,” she promised in a deadpan voice.

    “I don’t doubt it,” Rose laughed through her nose. “I’m just… worried I won’t be able to give you the kind of answers you’re looking for,” she worried aloud, making room for Dogmeat to lie down beside her feet. He had finished his inspection of the office, apparently.

    “Rose, a good reporter knows how to make the questions do the work for the person being interviewed, and I’m the best. It’ll be easy. I ask you who you are, get your opinion on life out there, maybe... load up a few tough questions to keep it interesting,” she tapped imaginary bullet points in the air with her pen. “What do you say?”

    Rose took a deep breath. “Sure, I’m in. What could it hurt?”

    “All right,” Piper chuckled. “Okay, let’s get down to business.” She made some quick notes on her paper. “Now, I know you’re from a vault. How would you describe your time on the inside?”

    “Well,” Rose breathed and scratched her head nervously. “My family and I were frozen, so I didn’t actually spend much time at all in the Vault.” Piper recorded some more notes, but her writing slowed and she looked up at Rose with narrowed brows.

    “Wh - wait,” she scoffed in disbelief. “They boxed you up in a fridge? The whole time?”

    Rose nodded.

    “You’re kidding me,” Piper replied, sounding a little disappointed. “Wait. Does that mean… you were alive before the War?” she asked earnestly.

    “Yes. I’m over 200 years old,” Rose muttered, her voice traveling nowhere but down to the floorboards.

    “Hohohoho, oh my God!” Piper laughed ecstatically.

Rose looked back up at her, unsure of what to say. Piper gasped, as if genius had struck.

The Woman Out of Time,” she marveled. “Rose, that’s… incredible, I mean, shit.” Then the realization dawned on her and she leaned forward towards Rose. “This has gotta be such an insane adjustment for you. I’m so sorry,” she offered. “I can’t even begin to imagine what that’s like,” she continued, shaking her head at the thought, staring off into space. Her eyes returned to meet Rose’s. “Wait, so what did you do for a living, before?”

“I was a prosecution lawyer,” she answered, amused by Piper’s excitement.

“Huh,” Piper huffed. “Well, that explains that big ol’ brain of yours.”

“You gonna include that in the paper?” Rose asked as Piper scrawled something down in her notepad.

“Nah, that’s off-the-record, remember? I want to go somewhere else with this piece. Okay, so, you’ve seen Diamond City, and some of the Commonwealth. How does it compare to your old life? And, it’s okay if you need a second to think about it.”

Rose thought the question over as she circled her thumb around the lip of the Nuka Cola bottle. There were so many things she wanted to say. That it was horrible. A nightmare she couldn’t wake up from. That she’d lost everything. But then she thought to Preston and his group, who’d taken her in as one of their own. Piper, who’d helped her at the gate of the city for no reason other than that she recognized Dogmeat. All the people like Trudy and her son who were surviving in spite of the same reality she was now facing. This was how it had always been for them. Things were bad back in her own time, with the resource wars, the government corruption, the ever-growing paranoia of nuclear war. At least when things were bad now, it wasn’t state-sanctioned.

“It’s been… really hard. Especially without…” She remembered Nate's face through the glass of his cryo pod, as if he were only sleeping. She couldn’t say his name. She looked away and cleared her throat. “I think I was most surprised to see people still trying to do good, honestly. Seeing everyone surviving out here? Rebuilding whatever they can of the world? It gives me hope.”

“That’s… surprisingly inspired. We’re definitely quoting that,” Piper noted sincerely, jotting some things down. Then her voice dropped down to a low half-whisper. Her expression turned solemn, and Rose felt her next words coming. “Now. The big question. You came all this way looking for someone. Who is it?”

“My son, Shaun, was kidnapped,” Rose’s throat was tight. Piper’s eyebrows pinched together and her lips parted slightly. “He’s not even a year old.”

“The parent after the missing child,” Piper thought aloud, making some more notes. “As heartbreaking today as it ever was,” she sighed, and her voice broke ever so slightly. “Tell me, do you suspect the Institute is involved?”

Rose considered her question. “I’m not going to jump to any conclusions, not until I have concrete evidence. But, after what I’ve heard about them, it would be hard to rule them out completely.”

“Not even a baby is safe from them. And people wonder why I can’t just look the other way…” she said in a low voice, closing her eyes for a moment. When she opened them again, she made some more notes and took a deep breath. “For the last part of our interview, I’d like to do something different.”

“Okay,” Rose agreed cautiously.

“I’d like you to make a statement to Diamond City directly . The threat of kidnapping is all but ignored in the Commonwealth. Everyone wants to pretend it doesn’t happen,” Piper shook her head. “What would you say to someone out there who’s lost a loved one, but might be too scared, or too numb to the world, to look for them?”

Rose took in the weight of the question, and felt her answer bubbling up out of the pit of her despair. Her chest was tight, but she swallowed the lump in her throat and blinked back the tears.

“I, um…” she started, then sniffled and cleared her throat. “No matter what,” she tried again, fumbling her words. She cleared her throat again, harder this time, and huffed a sigh of frustration with herself.

“It’s okay, Rose,” Piper leaned in, her brow creased, a longing sadness clouding her expression. “Take your time.”

“Thank you,” Rose nodded. What would she say to someone in her shoes? She took a deep breath and started again. “This world… isn’t the one that I left behind. It’s terrifying, and lonely, and barely more than ruins of the place I remember. And I stumbled out of that vault, by luck - good or bad, I can’t even begin to decide. And I was alone. With all the odds stacked against me. Theoretically, I shouldn’t have survived my first night. But I did. Because I have to find him. And if I die trying, then, well… it wasn’t for nothing, because I gave it my all. So, here’s my statement: no matter how much you want to give up, don’t. You have to have hope. That you’ll see them again. Or at least, that you’ll know the truth.”

Piper scribbled quickly on the pad, trying to get it all down. When she looked back up to Rose, her eyes were wet with tears.

“A strong note to end on,” Piper flipped her notepad closed and wiped her face on her sleeve. “Thank you, Rose.”

“You’re welcome. So, what’s next?”

“Well, it’s gonna take some time to put this all together, but… I think your story is going to give Diamond City plenty to talk about,” Piper answered, rising from her seat and setting her notebook down on top of the desk beside her printing press. “But, for now, how about those noodles we talked about? Then Detective Valentine’s. I can’t wait to see where your story goes next,” she grinned.

Chapter Text

Rose stared into the bowl of steaming noodles, her chin resting in the palm of one hand while the other twirled her food around with a fork. She couldn’t bring herself to eat. All she kept thinking about was getting her order to-go and heading straight for the detective’s office.

“Relax, Blue. Valentine isn’t going anywhere,” Piper laughed reassuringly beside her, almost as if she had read Rose’s mind. “I mean, unless he’s on a case or something.”

“Huh?” Rose’s gaze snapped over to Piper who was slurping up a big bite of noodles.

“Your leg has been bouncing since we sat down,” she mumbled through a full mouth.

“No, why’d you call me Blue?” Rose asked, slanting her brow.

“Same reason I knew you were a vault dweller, aside from the Pip-Boy and the fish-out-of-water look you had on your face when we first met,” she chortled, gesturing at Rose’s outfit with an up-and-down look. Rose looked down at her suit.

“Oh,” she surmised. Guess I’ll have to figure out what to do about that, she thought to herself. “I didn’t think wearing a vault suit put such a big target on your back,” she worried.

“Well,” Piper made a face as she thought. “I don’t know if it’s really a target. It’s more that you just stick out like a sore thumb.”

Rose pressed her lips into a thin line in slight frustration.

“Well, what do you suggest I do about that?” she snipped.

Piper didn’t appear particularly wounded, but Rose felt guilt pulling at her for being impatient with Piper after she’d been so selfless outside the city.

“Sorry,” Rose sighed. “I’m just getting antsy. And I guess that interview took a lot more out of me than I thought,” she admitted, staring off into the space between their feet.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Piper assured her patiently. “I know I wouldn’t be feeling so hot either. But, you did really well with the interview, and I really appreciate you telling me your story,” Piper reached up and gave Rose’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “We’ll go as soon as we finish up here. I just figured it’d be better if you ate something beforehand, since telling Valentine your story over again is probably gonna be just as exhausting.”

Rose exchanged a look with Piper. She’s right.

“All right,” she surrendered and turned her attention back to her food.

As Rose ate, she let her eyes wander around Diamond City’s marketplace. It was bustling with activity: people walking between the different storefronts to exchange goods or attempting to sell off their collections of junk, chems and medicine vendors, a butcher shop, and, unbelievably, a barber shop, complete with a working barber pole. She turned her eyes back to Power Noodles’ sole employee, Takahashi, who was working diligently on the preparation of the next batch of grub. According to Piper, one should just answer ‘yes’ when spoken to by the rusted old bot. He could only say one phrase, a question in what Rose guessed to be pre-war Japanese, and McDonough refused to have the glitch repaired for what she’d referred to with air quotes as cultural reasons.

Rose’s eyes wandered finally to a bright red neon sign on a wall beside an alleyway. The sign displayed the words Valentine Detective Agency with an arrow pointing to the alley, and a big heart symbol with Cupid’s arrow stuck right through it. Mama Murphy’s words echoed in her mind.

You find that heart that’s gonna lead you to your boy.

Rose stood up from her seat suddenly, startling both Piper and Dogmeat.

“Whoa, where’s the fire?” Piper huffed, watching Rose leave the counter and walk towards the neon sign as if in a trance. “Blue?” she called after her, waiting a couple of heartbeats before pursuing her.

Dogmeat climbed out from underneath the stool Rose had been sitting on and padded after her.

Rose approached the sign slowly, as if she wasn’t in control of her own movements.

So bright against the dark alleys it walks. That's what you need to do, kid. Follow the signs to the bright heart.

Rose turned down the alley, and Piper caught up to her.

“Hey, what the -” Piper cut herself off when she made eye contact with two guards that were on patrol.

One of them raised an eyebrow at the pair but they continued walking past nonetheless. Piper watched them go and lowered her voice.

“What the hell’s gotten into you?” She asked, following Rose down the overcast pathway. “If you wanted to get to Valentine’s office sooner, you could’ve just asked.”

“This is it, this is what Mama Murphy was talking about,” Rose began breathlessly. Piper reached out to grab a loose hold of Rose’s sleeve. Rose turned halfway around to face Piper, eyeing her grip on the jacket sleeve.

“Wait, pause. Mama Murphy? The Mama Murphy?” Piper asked skeptically.

Rose nodded hesitantly.

“She’s a real person?”

Rose answered with another nod and gently tugged her sleeve free from Piper’s grip.

“Aren’t you just full of surprises?” Piper thought aloud, snorting in disbelief before continuing after Rose.

“She’s the reason I came to the city,” Rose added. “She mentioned the signs specifically . I mean, I thought maybe she was speaking metaphorically, but it’s got to be these. The detective agency. That’s how I find my son,” Rose insisted.

“You believe in that stuff? Her mysterious fortune-telling ability?”

“Trust me,” Rose met Piper’s eyes briefly as they walked. “I doubted her at first, but everything Mama Murphy’s predicted has come true so far, and she would’ve had nothing to gain from lying to me. She even knew about my vault.”

“Maybe she just got lucky,” Piper countered offhandedly.

“Maybe,” Rose acknowledged. “But, it still doesn’t explain how she knew about my son. About…” Rose trailed off. That friction again in her mind; the struggle to force Nate’s name to come to her lips. “She knew about what happened to us. Before I’d even said a word to her.”

Guided by the last of the signs, Rose turned into the small entryway that belonged to the detective agency’s front door.

“Okay then, maybe she got really lucky,” Piper crossed her arms and leaned against the wall adjacent to the door. “You’ve done that twice now.”

“What?” Rose asked. “Done what?”

“You cut yourself off whenever you start talking about your family. Which, okay,” she shrugged. “You went through some rough shit, and it’s probably hard to talk about. But, whenever you do talk about it, you talk about your son, and then you make me think you’re going to mention someone else,” Piper’s gaze drifted to the wedding band on Rose’s finger. “But you don’t.” Piper glanced back up to Rose, who then straightened up and tucked her hands into her pockets. She didn’t meet Piper’s eyes.

“I, um,” Rose started, her throat closing around the words.

Nate. My husband. He’s gone. He was killed. Nate was murdered trying to protect our son from kidnappers. Kidnappers who showed no mercy. Kidnappers I may not ever find.

The sounds of the city floated through the air around them, and Piper took her cue to end the conversation.

“Hey, it’s fine. I shouldn’t have brought it up. I’m sorry,” Piper told her.

“Thanks,” Rose croaked. She cleared her throat and ran a hand through her hair, her eyes still glazed over as if she were in a daze. “I shouldn’t have expected any less from a reporter of your caliber,” she said in a deadpan voice. Piper waited for Rose to continue, seemingly unsure if it was a joke or not. Rose finally met her gaze again, and Piper looked relieved.

“Well, I’ll let you do the honors,” Piper gestured with a wave of her hand to the door, an old wooden thing with chipped red paint, and Rose reached for the handle. It turned with ease, and the three of them stepped inside.

They were met with a reception area, and once Rose’s eyes had adjusted, she could see that the whole front room was a mess of filing cabinets and paperwork scattered about. There were papers pinned to the walls with red pins stuck in them, and red string connecting the pins. It looked like the many police precincts she’d visited during her career. Piper and Rose exchanged a look when they heard muffled speaking coming from upstairs.

“The bills… Oh, forget the bills.”

“Hello?” Rose called up the stairs while Piper snooped innocuously around the room alongside Dogmeat. A moment of quiet, then footsteps descending the wooden stairs.

“Another stray coming in from the rain,” a woman chided as she took the last few steps and came into the room fully. “‘Fraid you’re too late. Office is closed.”

She was dressed in an off-white blouse that had been tucked into a ratty, pink, belted skirt, with a dark denim vest over top of her shirt, and a pink scarf with white stripes tied around her neck. Her brown hair was done up in a traditional housewife style: gathered at the back and curled into one large loop at the nape of her neck, with her bangs pulled up into the same kind of loop diagonally on one side at the top of her head.

“Wait, who are you? Are you the detective?” Rose inquired. The woman opened her mouth to answer but Piper cut her off.

“Nah, she’s his secretary,” Piper answered casually without even turning to look up from the files she was perusing. The woman’s eyes shot behind Rose’s shoulder, and she became visibly annoyed.

“Piper,” she scolded, stepping around Rose with quick steps to go shut the drawer Piper had been looking in.

“Whaaat?” Piper asked defensively.

“How many times have I told you not to poke your nose into our reports?” the woman gently snatched the papers from Piper’s hand.

“Oh, come on, Ellie,” she pleaded defensively. “It was just a little peek.”

“These are private matters that I’m sure people don’t want broadcast to the public,” the woman argued, turning then to start putting the files back into their corresponding cabinets. “I told you that when Nick had something worth putting in your newspaper, he would come find you.”

“Fine, whatever,” Piper conceded, finally settling into a chair in front of the reception desk, crossing her arms and legs when she did. “Speaking of Nick, is he around? My friend here needs his help with a missing person.”

Rose took the chair next to Piper, and Dogmeat curled up at her feet.

“Tch,” Ellie snorted, leaning one hip gently against the desk. “You and just about everyone else in the city. I’ve got a case backlog a mile long. But…”

Rose and Piper waited patiently for her to continue, but it took her a moment before she spoke again. She took a deep breath and smoothed her hands on her skirt.

“Nick’s disappeared, and I can’t exactly keep a detective agency open without a detective.”

Rose’s heart dropped into her stomach and she felt like she was going to sink into the fabric of her seat. Piper sat up straight, immediately concerned.

“Disappeared? How long ago?” Piper asked.

“Well, it’s been… almost a week and a half since he left to go work on his current case, but I was expecting him back at the latest by a couple of days ago.”

“What’s the case? And don’t worry. I’m asking as a friend. Not a reporter,” Piper promised.

“Skinny Malone’s gang, the Triggermen? They kidnapped a young woman, and Nick tracked them to their hideout in Park Street Station. There’s an old vault down there that they use as a base. I told Nick he was walking into a trap, but he just smiled and walked out the door like he always does,” she recounted fondly.

“Why would he go if he knew it was a trap?” Piper asked, and Ellie shrugged.

“Apparently he and this Skinny Malone character have a history. I mean, I don’t know that much about him, but Nick said he’s from Goodneighbor, which means he’s in the well-pressed suits and machine guns school of thuggery,” Ellie rolled her eyes.

“I’ll find him,” Rose blurted out, causing Ellie and Piper to turn their attention to her.

A sly smile creased Piper’s lips, but Ellie’s eyes grew wide.

“Oh, no, you can’t - I can’t ask you to go in there alone,” Ellie worried frantically.

“I have to find him. I have to at least try,” Rose argued, trying to convince herself almost as much as the other two.

“Ellie, this is probably the only offer you’re gonna get,” Piper added. “You and I both know that Diamond City security isn’t going to do anything about it. Besides, she wouldn’t be alone,” she bargained.

Rose exchanged a glance with her. Piper was serious.

Ellie chewed her lip, looking between the two of them while she thought it over.

“Okay,” she nodded once. “Just… please be safe. As safe as you can be, anyway. The Triggermen are dangerous, and they’re armed to the teeth. You should probably see Arturo before you head out.”

“You got it,” Piper said, pushing off the armrests of her chair to stand up. Rose mimicked the action, and Dogmeat stood up to stretch.

“Piper,” Ellie nodded to her. “Oh, and,” she continued, gesturing to Rose.

“Rose,” she answered.

“Thank you both. You have no idea what this means to me. We’ll be in your debt, if you bring him back.”

“Hey, now,” Piper chimed in. “You mean when we bring him back.”

“Right,” Ellie gave a small laugh and tucked a stray hair behind her ear. “Thank you again,” she concluded.

Piper reached for the door and held it open for Rose, Dogmeat, and finally, herself, to exit the agency.

    Once outside, Rose pulled up the map on her Pip-Boy.

    “Okay, Park Street Station,” she thought aloud. “I know exactly where that - oh, shit,” she sighed.

“What? What’s wrong?” Piper asked.

“Nothing,” Rose shook her head, but when she looked at Piper, the reporter was staring her down with a raised eyebrow. “I need to make a few stops before we go to the Station,” she explained as she zoomed in on the map to show Piper the marker Preston had placed for her, as well as the marker for Sanctuary. “I promised a friend I would check on some people for him after I found Diamond City. I’m sorry, I should’ve mentioned it before.”

And anyway, I doubt I’m experienced enough to take on the Triggermen, even with help.

“You don’t have to apologize to me,” Piper ventured. “Like I said, I’m just here for the ride. To see where your story leads. You’re the conductor of this missing-persons train,” she winked.

Rose stared at her blankly in response, and Piper laughed.

“Come on,” Piper ushered Rose down the alley. “Let’s go hit the shops, get some supplies for the road, and I’ll tell Nat we’re heading out.”

“It’ll be dark soon,” Rose commented, observing the evening sky.

“We’re still a few hours out from sundown,” Piper countered. “Plus, I’m assuming the Commonwealth is a lot different than you remember, and I can guide you through it. Just follow me, and we’ll be out of the city limits in no time. We can stop to rest if you get too tired.”

“Okay,” Rose settled after thinking it over, and the three of them made their way back to the market.