There was a chill in the air that morning. Not too unusual for the end of October. It didn’t help that Francis had woken up covered in sweat. The phantom pains from where her legs ought to be roused her from her slumber far too early in the morning. She rolled onto her side, staring at the dimly glowing hands of her clock. A little past 0530 on a Saturday. She sat up, wiping the sweat from her face,
A good a time as any to get up I suppose.
Though getting up was easier said than done. She turned on her bed and pulled the covers back, shivering as she experienced the full blow of the October morning. She traced the goosebumps down her thighs, her fingers gingerly touching the metal brace on her knee that she was forever bound to. It was freezing cold; something that didn’t help with the pain. She sighed and reached out for her new legs. She didn’t turn on the light, she still hadn’t gotten used to the sight of herself even though it had been almost a year. Some days were worse than others. The not yet familiar clunk and snap of her legs connecting in place still caused her to wince. It sounded too much like Anchorage. She shook her head to clear it and reached to turn on the light. Her eyes caught the gleam of the shining metal and shivered again. Sometimes it was hard to wrap her head around.
Gone. They’re gone.
Francis pulled the fusion cores out of her side table and slapped them into place on her legs. The quiet hum started, sending a low vibrating feeling though her knees. She stretched them out, feeling out the heaviness before sliding off the bed. After months of physical therapy she was able to walk on them without crutches. She still needed a single crutch when she wore them as heels, but she was getting better. She hobbled for a few moments before half assedly throwing her covers over her bed and pulling on a thin robe. It didn’t help with the chill but at least she felt nice in the floral silk.
It was too early to go bother her neighbors and chances are nothing was on TV. So she put on a kettle of water and settled down on the barstool in her kitchen. She swung her legs against the wooden island. A deep, rhythmic thump resonated through the house while she waited for the water to boil. Her mind drifted as she cupped her cheek in her hand and rested her eyes.
She had been deployed to the Front for a grand total of 85 days. She was only a few weeks away from coming home when the bombs hit. The entire FOB was under fire. All of a sudden. Word was that they were given some warning...but that never was passed on. Francis was sitting in her shitty folding chair, hunched over a Pip-Boy with the most uncomfortable pair of headphones on. Maybe they were told in advance like everyone else. Maybe simply none of the ops heard. Horribly degraded Mandarin Chinese echoed in her ears as she switched through radio frequencies. She stopped on a signal. Listened for a moment and switched to another. As she flipped to the next signal she heard a single phrase that made her stop and flip back. Fire. She barely had enough time to pull her headphones off and stand up before the ground shook and the ceiling collapsed on her. Her “safe” building- made of layers of cement to stop radiation damage, to stop secrets from getting out- had crushed her. The pain was immediate. A searing, blinding pain right below her knees. She screamed, pulling her headphones off and trying to see past the dust in the air and her own tears. She cried out for her fellow ops. Screaming out to them. She couldn’t hear them. She couldn’t see them. She struggled in vain against the concrete pinning her legs. She began to feel light headed. The pain shot through her like lightning as her vision began to go dark around the edges.
The whistle of the kettle pulled her back to reality and she took a deep breath to ground herself. She pressed her fingers into the countertop and listened intently to the whistle. She was safe. She wasn’t there. The date was October 23rd 2077, 0550-, she glanced at the clock in the living room. October 23rd 2077, 0558. She repeated it over and over until her heartbeat slowed back down to a reasonable pace. She shuffled over to the kettle and took it off the burner. At least she would have something to talk about today at group. She sighed and poured herself a cup of tea.
The early part of the morning was spent trying to shower without getting frustrated. She eventually gave up and sat in her bathtub for longer than was necessary. She then retired to her basement to study Chinese. She grew tired of that fairly quickly and went back and forth between cleaning her guns and taking stock of her emergency supplies. Nate originally made fun of her for it, but after a few group sessions together she got him to see her reasoning. Something might happen, it might not. But the only thing that she could control was how prepared she was. She knew she had a spot in the Vault up the road- but what if she was asleep when shit hit the fan? Her legs slowing her from getting there. Hell, what if her legs just stopped working halfway there? She didn’t expect anyone to take the time to save her. So she prepared. Prepared for the worse. Francis didn’t really think it was going to be that bad soon, but the protests and riots downtown didn’t help settle her anxiety. She looked around her concrete fortified basement with a sense of pride. She’d been saving most of her rations and had preserved a lot of food and clean water. She had a few bunk beds and even a foldable crib in case Nate and Nora couldn’t make it either. She had books lining one whole wall along with a box of cards and games. She had a large cache of medical supplies she “acquired” from work and saved from her weekly prescription. She even recorded a few episodes of her favorite radio dramas on holotapes so she’d have something to listen to in the future. She slid the upper receiver back onto her 10mm pistol as the doorbell rang. She glanced at the clock. 0803. She wasn’t expecting guests. She sighed and looked at the staircase leading to the ground floor. The doorbell rang again. This was going to be a long walk.