I hope this still works.
It was the first clear thought that passed through Rebecca’s mind. She stood before the metal gate, shaking in the cold air. All around her the air was still, as if holding its breath while she stared, sightlessly. The only light source came from behind her. It shone mercilessly down on the gate, illuminating the chipped blue and yellow paint. The same colors that adorned the jumpsuit she still wore.
The jumpsuit was a uniform, one that she had been given upon entering this place. It felt like a lifetime ago, the day she had entered past this very gate, looking up at the unforgiving light in confusion. This place had claimed to be shelter, safe from the bombs that fell so suddenly out of the sky. Shelter from the war.
Glancing down, she sighted the pistol in her right hand, and the digital monitor called a Pip-Boy strapped to the opposite arm. She grimaced as the memories came back, her grip tightening around the gun.
A quiet morning, broken by the wail of sirens. The news reporter on tv breaking down into tears as he mumbled something about bombs falling on major cities. It had all been so surreal. Even with all the rumors, the preparation, who knew that it would actually happen?
Rebecca had only just signed that salesman’s sheet, thinking even as she did that they would not need the protection it offered. Vault-Tec, the salesman claimed, had built a shelter for them, a place for them to be safe in the event of a nuclear attack. She had agreed to sign it, however, if only as a failsafe.
But had it actually happened?
She shuddered as her thoughts fell on the vault itself. They had been herded down into the structure, assured of their “New Life, Underground,” as if their shocked and horrified minds could understand. Then they had been frozen.
Dragging herself back to the present, she switched on the safety to her pistol and tucked it into her belt for safekeeping. After the creatures that she had found in the vault, she feared what may be lurking on the surface and hoped that it would be enough. If, she reminded herself, there was a surface world at all.
Bracing herself, Rebecca swung open the gate, wincing at the harsh screech that pierced the quiet. She stepped onto the platform beyond it, peering up at the absolute shadows yawning above her. Up there lay any chance of survival. Up there, perhaps, mankind still remained.
Securing the gate once more, she gave a last glance at herself. Brightly colored vault suit, 10mm pistol with dwindling ammunition, and an ancient Pip-Boy on her left arm.
Who could have guessed, indeed.
The platform gave a great lurch. She stumbled back away from the controls as it rose, a mixture of relief and apprehension twisting her stomach. She was grateful that, after what had obviously been many years without maintenance (she thought of the skeletons strewn about with horror), the vault still functioned. At least, it seemed, she would not be trapped.
But what was there on the surface? She feared what she might find, thinking of the days the bombs fell. Nothing could survive a nuclear war, right? That was what they had been told, in the months leading up to it. That was why Vault-Tec had created these damned tombs.
Bright golden light suddenly erupted above her head. Rebecca flinched, her eyes widening as what could only be sunlight filled the darkness of the shaft. As the platform neared the top, the sunlight seared her, but it was a gentle touch. Reassuring, familiar. She fell to her knees as the platform locked solidly into place, the wide expanse of the world spreading out in all directions. Tears tracked slowly down her face.
The world was destroyed. Trees were dead and twisted, some uprooted or hanging off the next. The underbrush was dried, the ground burned and cracked.
But under that was green.
Rebecca stood slowly, reaching out to the air as if for assistance. She looked around at the platform and the wire fence that surrounded it. Last she remembered, people had been fighting to get underground. There had been screaming, arguing. Vault-Tec had secured the location with armed guards, permitting only those that had signed up to go underground. In those harrowing seconds, she had been thankful she had signed her family up.
Her family. A fresh round of tears skated down unchecked as she thought of them. Warren, her husband and best friend of many years. The man she had stood beside through all of life’s ups and downs, the man who had always done the same for her. And now, the man who had been mercilessly killed, shot and left behind like he was nothing. And Shaun, her son. Her innocent baby boy. Captured and taken away by the same unnamed monsters. Anger warred with her grief as she stood there, taking in the remains of the world.
People had done this. People had ruined the world in their greed, their hatred, their inability to see past their own noses. They had destroyed civilization and left the world scarred; they had kidnapped her child.
“This can’t be happening,” she said, her voice breaking. It scared her, this horrid reality that she found herself faced with. This wasteland, slowly growing and healing, but scarred nonetheless. What was she going to do? Where could she go?
Was anyone even left?
Slowly, she picked her way down the dirt path. She had decided, despite her great shock, that she had to keep moving. Standing atop the vault would solve nothing. It would not find her food, water, or shelter. So Rebecca had, after a while, wiped away her tears and found the path down from the platform.
Stones littered the pathway, making it so that she was forced to watch where she put her feet. Fatigue gnawed at her, fangs sinking deeper with every step. But she refused to stop, not when she was so exposed. And sanctuary was so close.
At the bottom of the rocky slope, Rebecca raised her eyes to see buildings. Sanctuary Hills. She swallowed her nerves and stepped forward, freeing the pistol from its place at her belt. The buildings that surrounded her, as she walked down the familiar street, were nothing more than rusted, hollow shells. The wind swept down the road and the nearest house groaned as if in response. Rebecca found herself agreeing.
Before she knew it, her feet had automatically taken her to her own front door. She inhaled deeply through her nose as she surveyed the damaged structure, wondering just how many years had passed. Had it been 10, 20, more?
A skittering sound caught her attention and she raised her 10mm, leaning around the door frame to see a giant roach lazily wandering what used to be her front room. Curling her lip in disgust, she aimed and pulled the trigger, only to see the show go wide. The roach turned at the sound, flaring its wings slightly as it approached. Rebecca frowned and fired a second time, both hands cradling the gun. The roach went down with a harsh cracking sound, and she stood straighter.
After listening for more of the insects, she continued into the house. She was familiar, already, with these creatures. Several had swarmed her inside the vault, crawling towards her along the orange-lit hallways as she made her way to the exit. What they were, she was not sure. A result of the radiation, perhaps.
The house was desolate. Her eyes burned with tears, but she refused to let them fall. She had cried enough in the past hour.
The front room was arranged just as she remembered. The sofa, a faded, torn thing, rested in front of the television, the one on whose screen that news anchor had announced their fate. And beyond that, the kitchen. With its long countertop and familiar appliances still there, she could almost believe nothing had happened.
If it wasn’t for the sunlight peeking in through the fractured roof.
Wrapping her arms around herself, she turned and walked down the narrow hallway. At the end were two bedrooms. To the left, lay the master suite where she and Warren had slept. As she stood in its doorway, shoulder pressed into the frame, she recalled lazy mornings spent curled in his arms. Neither had been particularly early risers, even after their son had been born. She could almost smell the clean sheets.
And to the right lay the nursery. Blue paint still adorned the crib where Shaun had slept. A few toys lay scattered around the small room: a letterblock here, a red delivery truck there.
Rebecca felt her some of her confusion melt away as she stood there in silence. Though it was hard to believe, and even harder to accept, the nuclear war had happened. Now there were only ghosts of that pre-war world, ones that cried at every corner of homes like this one.
The woman lifted her head and turned around again, intent on putting distance between herself and her former life. At this point, she reasoned, it offered her nothing but pain. Maybe at a later date, when she had come to terms with everything, she would return.
She left the house, continuing on down the street towards the edge of Sanctuary Hills.
The sun was beginning to set as she looked out over the remain of the wooden bridge. The fact that it remained shocked her, as she figured it would have rotted away in the radiation. But here it was, crossing a tricking stream filled with debris.She moved across it slowly, listening as it creaked and groaned under her weight.
On the other side she came across the first body.
Rebecca stepped forward and, biting back her revulsion, crouched beside it. The individual was a middle-aged man, dressed in tattered leathers. He had not been dead long, she realized, and knew with faint hope in her heart that other people still lived. But the gruesome wounds along his arms and torso, ones caused by something feeding on his body, caused this hope to die just as violently.
She reared back, pulling out the 10mm again. Whatever was using this corpse as food was near. And whatever that was, she had no intention of finding out.
There was a lengthening shadow under the rocky overhang to her right, and from within it she heard a scuffling sound. Swearing, she held the pistol out as three ragged dogs prowled towards her.
Fear skittered like a trapped insect in her stomach. These hounds were feral, their eyes locked on her and their steps sure. Several ribs could be seen through the bloody, matted fur of each.
She recalled her dwindling stock of ammunition and despaired. How was she going to fight off three hungry dogs?
But this thought dissolved as the first lunged as her and she fired, the pistol recoiling in her hand as the bullet buried itself in the dog’s skull. It went down with a whine, spasming sickeningly on the cracked pavement. Rebecca had no time to rejoice as the other two advanced.
The second she caught in the side, bullet striking as the hound prowled to her left. It growled at her, fangs bared in fury, as it dragged itself to its feet again. She barely avoided its bite as she jumped backward, one foot slipping on the gravel.
Fire lanced up her left arm as the third dog pulled her off balance. Through the haze of pain, she lifted the pistol and used the grip of the gun to strike the animal between its ears. Blood welled out from the resulting wound, and the dog twisted its body savagely, wrenching her arm around. She screamed in agony and struck a second time, another swear bit out between her teeth.
The second dog lunged again, having circled her momentarily, and she repeated the offense a third time. This time she caught its jaw and it recoiled from her in shock. As it backed away, growling faintly, she kicked off the other and resolutely put a bullet just behind its eye.
Ignoring the pain in her arm, she raised the pistol again and fired several times until the last dog fell limp to the road.
She stumbled and found herself against the same rocky overhang, breathing heavily as she tried to compose herself. Dark hair, rebelliously freeing itself from the tail she had put it in, stirred with each exhale. Her eyes snagged on the blood seeping from the ragged tear in her vault suit. The arm ached, though she thought, by some miracle, it was not broken. Fingers twitching, she peeled back the blue fabric to see the damage the feral dog had caused. The bite was just above her elbow, fangs sinking deep. Nausea curled in her belly but she pushed it away.
Stop the bleeding, she reminded herself. She could not die now, having been on the surface less than a day. She had her son to find, her husband to avenge.
Hooking her 10mm on her belt once more, she used her teeth to tear of the remainder of the ruined fabric on her arm. Her fingers slipped in the blood as she pulled the makeshift tourniquet tight. Spitting at the horrid taste of pennies and whatever had been in that dog’s mouth last, she stood up and glanced back at the man in the road.
“I’m sorry,” she muttered. Though it solved nothing, she nodded at his body and reminded herself to someday, if she could, return to bury him. And everyone else she left behind in the vault.
Walking became difficult. Her head spun from stress and blood loss. Rebecca glanced up at the horizon as the sun finally sank behind the distant hills, her mind numb. She had nowhere to stay the night. No shelter and only, as she checked for the second time since the dogs, 4 bullets.
Maybe she should have stayed behind in town. It would have been smarter, she thought to herself as she trudged onward. There would have been walls around her, and a roof over her head. A sofa to sleep on.
But the harshness of her memories colliding with her reality had seared her too much to stay.
“Not like this,” she bit out, cursing herself. “You will not die like this.”
There had been a gas station south of Sanctuary Hills, where she had often stopped to buy a cold Nuka-Cola as she watched trucks come through to fuel up. Perhaps it still stood.
On the crest of the next hill, she spotted the familiar red rocket poised as if ready to launch into space. Relief course through her veins as she took in the quiet station. It looked mostly intact, the paint chipping but the building otherwise secure. As she walked closer, cradling her injured arm close to her chest, she saw signs of life.
A light beckoned from the garage, shining out into the deeping twilight. A fence, neatly mended, surrounded a patch of what looked to be crops. There was a clothesline, where a few shirts and a sheet hung in the breeze.
Rebecca stood still for a few moments, wondering if the signs were those of safety or danger. He or she who lived here would likely not appreciate her presence. In this wasted world, she would be competition for the limited resources.
Shaking her head, she approached anyway. In her state, and in this new world she knew little of, she would likely die anyway.
Once she got close enough, Rebecca called out. “H-hello?” She blinked in the light of the garage, spotting several shelves pushed against the brick walls, each covered in untidy collections of junk. “I need help. Please, I’m -”
Barking interrupted her and she flinched, casting about for the source of the sound. A large dog rounded the open door, ears flat to his head. He growled at her, hackles raised across his shoulders.
She noticed that his fur was groomed, soft and shining across strong muscles. This was no feral hound like those she had just passed. He was well taken care of, loved even.
“Hey there,” she tried, using this information to her advantage. “I’m no trouble, boy. I just need help.” She took care to keep her voice soothing, pitching it low as she watched him carefully for signs of attack. He looked to be a German Shepard, or at least mostly one. She remembered them being used by law enforcement back before the war.
The dog approached her slowly, sniffing the air. Rebecca tried to crouch, to get down to his level and try to appear non threatening, but as she did her body collapsed. She groaned as she leaned forward, squeezing her eyes shut at the fresh bout of pain in her arm. “Please,” she croaked. She hoped that whoever owned this dog returned soon, and that they new first-aid.
The dog slowed, noticing her distress. He whined then, trotting to her side and sniffing her wounded arm, obviously having decided she was no trouble. His ears went flat once more and he nudged her gently before raising his head and barking loudly.
A voice broke through Rebecca’s pain and she blinked, looking up in surprise. It was that of a woman, concern in her tone. As if in response, the dog barked again, clawing at the ground in his urgency.
A woman appeared from the shadows that lead deeper into the gas station. She was blonde, long hair pulled back tightly, her face creased with worry. “Dogmeat, what - oh. Oh my god.” She rushed forward and knelt beside Rebecca, reaching out with both hands. She seemed not to care about the blood dripping onto the floor. “Holy shit. Hold on, just hold on. I’ve got a stimpak around here somewhere.”
The woman stood up again and crossed the room, rummaging in what looked to be a medic’s kit, before returning and uncapping the needle she held in her hand. She braced one hand on Rebecca’s shoulder and injected the contents of the needle, wincing as Rebecca hissed at the fresh pain.
“Here, let me look at that.” She gestured to the wound on Rebecca’s arm and the woman nodded weakly. “Damn. What the hell got you? Dogs, it looks like.” At the other woman’s agreement, she swore again. “Damned hounds. Looks like I’ll have to go hunting again.”
As she spoke, she got up and grabbed the medical kit before sitting next to Rebecca, “Dogmeat, go stand watch, will you? There could be more, and if they catch wind of all this blood, they’ll follow it here,” she added this for Rebecca’s benefit as the dog trotted off. “Now, about this wound…”
The woman unceremoniously inspected it and, muttering to herself, fished out several things from the kit at her side. Rebecca pulled away instinctively as she cleaned it, wincing at the burn. “Thanks,” she managed to grit out as the woman worked. “But who are you?”
“My name’s Anna. I live here at the truck stop with Dogmeat.”
“He’s your dog, then?”
“Well,” Anna considered as she traded the antiseptic for a needle and what looked like thread. “I don’t really own him. He’s my best friend. We’ve been traveling together for a few years now, after I stumbled across this place. He’d been living here, you see.”
Here she used the needle to sew together one of the more ragged wounds in Rebecca’s arm. She did this without complaint, and her movements were sure. “Damn,” she swore again. “I’m sorry this hurts, but we don’t need you losing any more blood.” She seemed calm, but there was worry in the tenseness of her shoulders and the shine in her eyes.
“What’s your name, then?” Anna spoke again, after she finished and tied off the thread.
“Rebecca. I -” She peered down at the wound and grimaced. Now that most of the blood had been removed, she could clearly see the ragged bite marks. “God, it’s a wonder I didn’t lose that arm. Too bad he didn’t get me lower, the Pip-Boy may have protected me.”
Anna was nodding, fishing fresh gauze from the kit. “The dogs around here are a menace. I usually some across a pack a couple times a year. It’s nice to meet you, by the way. Though I can’t say that this is a great first impression.” She added this last bit with a frown.
The gauze went around Rebecca’s injury and she sighed then, a content feeling settling over her mind. Here was someone in this new world. And this someone was helping her.
“Thank you,” she said again, smiling for the first time since exiting the vault.
Anna returned it. “You’re welcome. That stim should be kicking in about now, I believe. The pain easing a bit? Good. Now,” she stood and wiped her hands on a clean rag from a nearby shelf. She helped Rebecca to stand and then looked her over, taking in the suit and bold yellow numbers. “111. That’s the vault just north of here, isn’t it?”
Rebecca frowned. “Yes. How did you know?”
“I travel a lot, and I know a good portion of this region. I’ve gained quite a few scars, and - I daresay,” she continued ruefully, “A little bit of a reputation. I would ask why the hell you are out here in the open at this hour, but now is not the time. Here, come on in proper.”
She lead the way into the station, reaching out to turn on a nearby lantern. The bright orange glow illuminated the space and Rebecca looked around with interest. It was worn, the items tattered and aged, but it looked comfortable enough.
There was a counter separating the hallway from the back, and it was covered in a few old vases. Tools poked out of one and flowers out of the others. A notebook with some scrawled writing lay open near the lantern, notes or letters maybe. There was also a mug and, inhaling eagerly, Rebecca detected something akin to coffee steaming within.
Beyond that lay a tight, yet cozy, living space. A plush sofa stood against the far wall, piled with a few pillows and, to her amusement, three teddy bears. In front of it stood a low table, piled with some more scrap and a few dining accessories. There were a few low bookshelves, stacked with novels worn with age and disrepair. A rug covered the cold floor here, thick and inviting.
“Oh,” she breathed. “This place is great.”
“I think so,” Anna replied with a wink. “Take a seat, please. I’ll get you something to eat.”
Rebecca shuffled over to the sofa and tiredly sank into its cushions, smiling happily. This place may not be the clean grandeur she was used to from before the bombs fell, but it was a happy place. Lived in. She breathed easy, feeling a bit of her stress ebbing away.
Hearing the sound of claws on stone, she glanced up to see the dog returning. He trotted up to her and whined, as if asking if she was alright. “I’m okay, boy. You’re friend patched me right up. Thanks for calling for her, by the way. You’re a good boy.”
At the classic words, his tail wagged. He then sat by her knees, looking up at her over his shoulder. Rebecca reached out with her good hand and scratched behind his ears, smiling faintly. Warren had mentioned getting a dog, claiming to always want one. He had never had one growing up, and now that they had their own house, it was time. She had eagerly agreed, but they had never gotten the chance.
Blinking away the tears, lest her new friend see them, she sat back and continued looking around. To her right was a door, a thing obviously reclaimed from somewhere and fixed by Anna. It must lead to a back office, she reasoned, but wondered how it had be repurposed.
Anna returned a few minutes later, and Rebecca shook herself, feeling exhaustion pulling at her limbs. “I’m sure all you want to do is sleep,” Anna remarked quietly. “But I brought some water and something to eat. Don’t worry, Dogmeat won’t steal any.”
Rebecca smiled her thanks and took the glass plate. She didn’t recognize what meat was one the plate, and frowned as the more distasteful options ran through her mind.
“It’s radroach.” The reply was quiet and followed by a chuckle. “Not the most appetizing, I know. But out here there isn’t too many choices. Those damn things are everywhere.”
“Radroach,” Rebecca echoed. “You mean those cockroaches the size of cats?”
“The very same. It’s not too bad; I’ve learned a few tricks to make them better.”
Shrugging, Rebecca ate without any further questions. True, the meat was less that pleasing, but it was warm and that was all that she cared about. She unsealed the water and drank deeply, her eyes closing as her immediate needs were met. “Thank you again,” she spoke as Anna took the dishes from her. “I - I didn’t expect there to be anyone up here.”
Her words were dark, and her voice darker. Anna nodded in simple understanding, before speaking. “Get some sleep. There is time for questions tomorrow.”
Unable to argue, Rebecca carefully laid down and cradled her arm close to her chest. Her eyes closed, she listened to Anna walk away, Dogmeat padding attentively at her heels. Then there was nothing as sleep overcame her.
“At least we still have the spare.”
Rebecca stared into the eyes of the mercenary. Cold, dark eyes. A ghastly scar. It was all she could make sense of. Her body was numb with ice and her mind struggled to process the scene before her. Who was he? Why had he come here and attacked them?
Here? She couldn’t remember where she was, or how she got there. But what she did know, what she could see plainly in front of her eyes, was that something was wrong. A baby was crying. Her baby. And had that been a gunshot?
She wanted to fight, to reach out and take back her baby. Her fists pounded weakly at the glass encasing her. A scream bubbled up her throat but it couldn’t reach past her lips.
As the man walked away, Rebecca looked across the darkened room to see Warren. He was slumped over in the alien restraints, blood splattered across the frosted window. He had been shot, she realized suddenly. He was dead.
She tugged at her own restraints. She needed to get out. But her body was cold and her mind foggy, unable to make sense of anything. The only thoughts in her head were of Warren and Shaun. One dead and the other disappearing.
A buzzing voice broke against her ear and she flinched. A fresh jet of frigid air encased her and she felt herself slow. No , she protested feebly. She had to go. Shaun was being taken away from her. They were getting away.
They were getting away…