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F52 - Ladder to the Upper World

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"I had a dream about a Courser once," Deacon says.

Drummer Boy rolls his eyes. "We all do. They're called nightmares."

Deacon bites back a laugh. A rare moment of irony from the straight-faced Drummer Boy. "Not that kind of dream," he says.

Drummer Boy completely misinterprets that statement. "Oh god," he says. "I really do not need to hear more."

Deacon can't hold his laugh in any longer. Drummer Boy just gives him a dirty look and leaves.

 

Deacon hadn't been sure it was a dream at all.

It went like this:

He was out in the field, past Lexington. Scouting out travel routes. It was night. He'd been working through the underbrush, figuring that wilderness areas were safer than civilization. Crickets buzzed in the summer silence.

And then there was a burst of light. If it hadn't been for the sunglasses, Deacon would've been blinded. As it was, he caught the distinct outline of a Courser uniform in the fading glow. Deacon went still, his hand twitching towards his rifle with the night vision scope. If he was lucky, the Courser wouldn't notice him at all.

He was lucky. The Courser didn't even glance in his direction, heading up the hill instead. Deacon breathed out, and drew his rifle.

He shadowed the Courser for at least a good mile. The Courser was alone, and clearly on a mission. Not an escapee, then. Not heavily armed, either. Deacon thanked whatever deity there might be for that, and perched on top of a ridge, raising the rifle to his shoulder and centering the Courser in the scope. He might've taken a shot, but hesitated, curious as to the Courser's destination.

There was an old road that the Courser followed. Deacon stuck to the side, moving silently through the underbrush. The road abruptly ended at an old wooden bridge. Deacon waited until the Courser had cleared the bridge, then followed.

It was an old suburb. Must've been a cozy place, back Pre War. Some of the little prefab houses were still in decent shape. He'd lost the Courser while crossing the bridge. Deacon raised the rifle again, and nearly poked himself in the eye with the scope when a loud whirring cut the darkness. He could distinctly make out the sound of shouting.

The sounds guided him to a well-kept house where a Mr Handy was violently assaulting the Courser. The Courser had a hand up over their face, which proved to be a bad idea when the Handy took its saw blade to the Courser's hand. The Courser winced in pain, and fled, the Handy in pursuit. Deacon snickered to himself. The Courser really must've been caught unawares. He was probably witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime event.

The Handy retreated back to the front of the house, grumbling quietly in an English accent. Deacon gave it a wide berth. He didn't need the night vision scope to follow the Courser anymore. The synth was bleeding freely, and the blood trail led Deacon over a creek, and up a hill to some kind of construction site.

Deacon parked himself between some old construction equipment to watch.

The top of the hill had been leveled off to build some kind of platform. The Courser headed for a small trailer at the edge of the worksite. Deacon shifted slightly. It looked like there was some kind of terminal that the Courser was accessing. After a few minutes, the Courser pulled a chip out of the terminal and turned and left.

Deacon didn't move. He counted to one hundred, then crept out from his hiding place, eyes glued to the scope. The Courser was gone. Deacon lowered the rifle, and entered the little trailer. He poked hesitantly at the terminal. Computer skills had never been his forte. He managed to boot the thing up.

The words glowed at him, green in the dark. VAULT 111. UNAUTHORIZED USER. ACCESS DENIED.

His skin prickled. Deacon slowly raised the rifle again, and sighted down at the platform. "111" was painted across the surface in massive numbers.

111. As far as he knew, a Vault 111 wasn't common knowledge in the 'Wealth. Which begged the question: what did the Institute want with an undiscovered vault?

 

He knows it hadn't been a dream when he comes back and there is Vault 111, the white numbers glaring in the sun.

Deacon surveys the site before he moves in. No synths. No Coursers. Nothing but the homicidal Mr Handy back in the cul-de-sac. "Here goes nothing," Deacon mutters to himself as he pulls out the tape Tom made him and inserts it into the terminal.

For a few heart-stopping moments, nothing happens. Then code spills across the screen, and a menu finally flickers up.

VAULT ACCESS: UNAUTHORIZED.

TERMINAL LOG.

Deacon hits the second option.

STASIS PARAMETERS LAST MODIFIED: 25 AUGUST 2285.

STASIS PODS A1-A6: LIFE SUPPORT DISABLED. OCCUPANT STATUS: DECEASED.

STASIS PODS B1-B6: LIFE SUPPORT DISABLED. OCCUPANT STATUS: DECEASED.

STASIS PODS C1-C6: LIFE SUPPORT DISABLED. OCCUPANT STATUS: DECEASED.

STASIS POD C7: LIFE SUPPORT FUNCTIONING. OCCUPANT STATUS: TO BE RELEASED 23 OCT 2287.

"Holy shit," Deacon whispers.

There's a living person in stasis down there. Possibly Pre War. And the Courser had set a date for this person to be released. October 2287.

A little over two years.

 

He doesn't like P.A.M. Too easy to become dependent on easy answers. But he can't resist. Just for curiosity's sake. An intellectual exercise. He feeds the data in, and P.A.M. tells him that the estimated computing time is about two days.

He hopes that Glory and Dez aren't too annoyed at him for knocking P.A.M. out of commission for that length of time. He doesn't stick around the Switchboard long enough to find out.

A caravan guard haunts Bunker Hill that night. In between jobs, no, not looking for another gig at this time. Needs a breather from the road. And a distraction from his troubles. Booze, cigarettes, and stories, my friend.

And he lights up, watches the smoke dance in the firelight against the night sky, the air turning slightly crisp as a reminder that summer would soon be over. Deacon inhales, the smoke tickling his nose.

"It's always the Vaulties," an old caravaneer rasps. Spits in the dirt. "They spend so much time underground, it changes 'em. Like how diamonds is made. Something 'bout the earth compresses 'em, it makes 'em hard. And bright."

Deacon tips back a shot and knocks ash off the end of his cigarette. "Tell me again about the Wanderer," he says.

"Lone Wanderer," the caravaneer corrects. "This kid, barely twenty, crawls up outta this sealed up Vault. Their daddy had been workin' on some ol' project. Deliver clean waters to the Capital. Been as polluted as the underside of a mirelurk since the War. But this old man, he was gonna purify everything. So he goes missing, his kid follows him, and damn if that Vaultie didn't end up a legend. Gave their life to turn on the purifier. And that was only the end, mind you," he says, lighting up a fancy cigar, "before that they teamed up with the Brotherhood, brought down the false President, and saved a city from a bomb, just to name a few."

"But the Lone Wanderer wasn't the first Vaultie to change the world," Deacon supplies.

The old man laughs. "Not by a long shot." He takes a drag on the cigar. "The first one now, now they took out the Master of all super mutants, and founded the NCR. Not bad for someone who didn' know there was a world outside the Vault til they were thirty."

"Not bad indeed. Hey, we got a vault," Deacon says, "Ol' 81, just in west Boston. They're real suspicious bastards. I've tried to get in there to trade, no go."

"Just you wait." The old man wags a finger. "Someday one of 'em will look around and say 'I want more', and they'll come up from beneath the ground and they'll turn your lives upside down. Always the Vaulties, it is."

Deacon nods. The stories of the Vault Dwellers have long since passed into folklore at this point. But Deacon always figures that underneath all the exaggerations and tall tales, there are grains of truth. It's how he operates. The strongest lies are built on a foundation of truths.

 

When he gets back to P.A.M., she simply feeds him an error. "Warning," she says, "massive uncertainties with rogue variable. Please insert more specific query."

Deacon shrugs, and leaves it.

He slips out of the Switchboard that night, packed for a long haul. Doesn't say anything to anybody. It'll be, "Oh, Deacon's disappeared again. He'll turn up in a month with a new face and a good batch of intel. Hope he doesn't decide to go Ghoul again. That was weird."

Well, he intends to keep them on their toes. No one will be seeing Deacon for a while. They know how to get in touch with him. He's got places to go, intel to dig up. Intel that could change the game entirely.

He'd given up on his search for the Institute sometime around last February. He'd found out a fair bit, could take a very educated guess on their location. But it was no use. Deacon was pretty sure that they'd need heavy excavation equipment to have any hope of breaching the Institute's walls, and that was not possible. So he just told Dez that he was letting it go. She'd seemed happy to have their best spy back on the job, but only briefly. He got kicked out of the Switchboard again in March for a good few weeks.

Made no matter to him. Deacon hated staying in one place too long anyway. It made him twitchy.

He hunkers down in the Boston Library. There was no one else occupying the place at the moment, which surprised him. Raiders/super mutants were usually a fixture.

Deacon doesn't take it for granted. He booby-traps the place to hell and back, ensuring that if someone does disturb him, he'll have plenty of warning.

Then he settles down amongst the card catalogues.

A few terminals are still functioning, enough to direct him to where he needs to go and then enough to tantalize him with the vast amount of material missing from the collection.

There's not much to go on. Whatever Vault-Tec was up to, none of it is available to the public. After a week, Deacon packs up and leaves, stuffing his bag with his notes. He carefully dismantles all the traps on the way out. No sense in wasting good grenades.

He tries the regional Vault-Tec office next. But it seems most of the employees were kept in the dark as to the grim nature of their work. He does find a few interesting tidbits, however. Shipping manifests. Large amounts of liquid nitrogen, and stasis pod equipment. Payrolls. Vault 81 had double the usual amount of staff, for some reason. Vault 111: skeleton crew.

It's beginning to look a little bit like Christmas, he thinks. With frost everywhere, and Pre War people frozen in pods like gifts to line up underneath a tree. Only, most of them are dead. Except the one.

Except the one.

The Big Question still lingers in his mind. Why? What does the Institute want with a person from the Pre War times, with no knowledge of the Wasteland? Deacon wonders if they somehow have records of all the people stored in Vault 111. Knowing who this person is could answer a lot of his questions.

And give him a better idea of how to prepare for their arrival.

 

Deacon leaves a note at a dead drop, and hitches a ride with a long-distance caravan.

Two weeks later, he arrives in the Capital Wasteland.

He spends the fall tracking down stories of the Lone Wanderer. It's only been a decade since the Lone Wanderer turned the world upside down, but enough time has passed that knowledge has already been lost.

He retraces the Lone Wanderer's route. Concludes that the Wastes must seem absolutely batshit to some poor vault dweller. Probably seem even crazier to a Pre War person who didn't even get the chance to Ghoulify and take the scenic route to the future.

2185 passes into 2186. He drops in at a few Capital safehouses, mentally tallies all the security lapses. But then again, the Capital is much safer than the Commonwealth. Folks here don't have generations of suspicion drilled into their heads. For the Capital Wastelanders, a rumor of a synth is a curiosity, nothing more.

Deacon decides that he isn't very suited to the Capital. He remembers it back in the bad old days, before the water ran clear. It was more like the Commonwealth back then. Warring factions, instability. All his paranoia is wasted in this utopia. He doesn't feel quite right with the thought that someone isn't waiting in the shadows with a loaded gun.

It's obvious, in some ways, what a Vaultie new to the Wasteland needs. Survival skills. Proficiency with a weapon. Can't be squeamish. Has to figure out how to kill things and cook them. Etc. Moira Brown is particularly helpful. Lovely woman. Terrifyingly enthusiastic. She gives him a copy of the Wasteland Survival Guide #1, which she says was written with the Lone Wanderer as both a test subject and target audience. Should be easy enough to get this into his Vaultie's hands.

His Vaultie. It's a natural enough thought. No one except him and the Institute knows that this lost soul is coming. The Institute cannot be allowed to get their hands on this person. Therefore, the responsibility of keeping them alive falls to him.

Deacon tries very hard not to think about all the people who have relied on him in the past, and how most of them ended up dead.

 

"Where have you been all year?" Dez asks.

Deacon shrugs. "Getting things prepared."

"What are you preparing for?"

"A project."

Dez sighs and tips back in her chair. "I'm guessing you're not going to tell me any more than that."

"Not now, sweet Desdemon," Deacon quotes, smiling.

"We need you back here. We've been getting too many synths to handle. I need locations for new safehouses, I need decisions on people to promote, I need new routes. I need you, Deacon. I don't care what your project is. It can wait."

Deacon tips his sunglasses down, looks Dez full in the eyes. "You have me. Until September. That's when things kick into high gear."

"Good." Dez stands. "Safehouses. Three locations, and I want them on my desk by the end of this week."

"It shall be done." Deacon slides the sunglasses back up on his face.

In truth, he has a massive list of potential locations that he keeps updated. Easy enough to pick the best three. But he'll wait until the end of the week to do it. No need to make his job look too easy.

 

September does not go according to plan.

He wakes up in a haze of confusion and smoke. People are shouting in the distance. His brain immediately kicks into gear. His hands grab and load his gun without conscious thought.

Evacuation plans flash through his brain, and he ducks into the hallway, shoots a synth in the head. There are more coming behind that one. His trigger finger does not stop until they are all broken on the floor.

Ducking through the corridors, he passes Glory, opens his mouth to ask how many areas she's cleared. She shakes her head. "Don't. Too many dead. Find Dez, get Tom, P.A.M."

Why does she want the damn predictive robot? Deacon throws her a salute as her minigun powers up, shots echoing through the hallway, blocking the path so that he can retreat. He races back through the corridors, ignores the bodies on the floor.

Hours pass. His throat is hoarse from shouting orders, breathing smoke. Hands numb from the recoil of his gun. Heart hurting, when he activates the security measures in the escape tunnel, makes sure that none of the Institute bastards can follow them out.

Gives the orders to scatter. Go to ground. People vanish into the dark.

He remembers Pinky's words, all those years ago. "If one safehouse goes down, assume that all hell is coming for your ass."

Words to live by. Deacon heads out into the wilderness. Murders a raider and steals their clothes. As the sun rises, he arrives at Ticonderoga, and sends runners out to check all the other houses.

The Railroad shuts down, like a scared mirelurk retreating into its shell.

 

Messages change hands. A week later, a group of bedraggled people, synths, and a robot gather in Boston's Old North Church.

"Can't see nothin'," Glory mutters.

The hiss of a match strike. Deacon lights the lantern that he's carrying, illuminating the group in a soft glow. "I had this site picked out as a backup," he says.

The doctor is frowning. "It's too obvious. Right at the end of the Freedom Trail? A historic landmark? If this is your idea of a joke, I don't appreciate it."

"I am stone-cold serious, Carrington," Deacon replies. "Follow me, everyone."

He leads them to a door at the side of the congregation, down a flight of narrow stairs. The temperature lowers as they descend.  "The crypts down here," Deacon says, "are amazing. And most people have no idea they exist."

They pass through tiny brick rooms. "Watch your heads," Deacon says, ducking to avoid a pipe. All the plumbing and electricity was run through these narrow catacombs when the church modernized. Plaster markers are embedded into the walls, carved with their occupants' names.

Deacon eventually stops, lifts the lantern, illuminates a Freedom Trail plaque on the wall. "If my research is correct—"

Carrington snorts.

"If my research is correct, behind this wall should be another burial site. Part of Copp's Hill. They dug into the hill, made catacombs, back before the area got built up. So. Behind this wall. Glory, wanna do the honors?"

Glory grins. "Sure do. Stand back, everyone."

Apart from her beloved minigun, Glory is also known to carry a sledgehammer. The wall is down within ten minutes, clouds of dust choking the air.

As the dust clears, a passage is revealed.

Deacon leads the way. The bricks down here are more modern. Space for city infrastructure, probably. There's another wall that needs to come down. Once again, Glory and her sledge take care of it.

As the last of the brick crumbles into dust, the sounds echo out into the darkness. Deacon slowly steps forward, holding up the lantern.

Oh god in heaven, this is even better than he thought.

They're in a massive underground vault. Tomb-type of vault, not the other kind. Stone coffins are lined up like soldiers to welcome them. After all, Boston is the Cradle of Liberty. For Americans, and now, for synths.

This place is perfect.

Well, it would be, if their comrades who were lying dead back at the Switchboard were here to see it too.

 

Reestablishing HQ takes several weeks. Dez has her hands full, getting in contact with all the safehouses, taking a count of the dead and figuring out what they lost. Everyone gets their hands dirty rigging up security for the new space. Deacon draws up new contingency plans, updates his lists, and badgers everyone over shoring up security procedures.

He's overdue for a new face. But it's going to have to wait. He's got a date with destiny.

T minus three days to showtime, and Deacon packs his bag. It's likely going to be several months before he sets foot in HQ again, and he makes sure that he's well stocked for the road.

On October 21st, 2187, he sets out to Vault 111. Arrives in the evening, and rigs up a small outpost to keep an eye on the vault.

On October 22nd, 2187, he goes over all of his plans, covers, lies, intel.

On October 23rd, 2187, he glues his eyes to his scope, and watches. And waits.

 

At 3:36 PM, a creaking sound pierces the air. The vault entrance opens, and an elevator rises into the light, carrying one lone figure into the Commonwealth Wastes.