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Maybe You'll Think of Me

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2231 - Arroyo

Arroyo sat in its canyon. Onion domes beaten from rusted metal sheets, filled in with cracked mud, sat atop a few of the adobe buildings. Natalia Dubrovhsky sat under the shade of one: the one that was her home. Eighty-seven years had turned her black hair silver and weathered her fair skin, but her back was still straight and proud. How could she not be proud? Arroyo wasn’t just a village, and it wasn’t even just her home: it was her legacy. And a fine one.

Finer still if she’d ever managed to find a fucking GECK. But there was no sense thinking of what might have been.

Life happened. And though you lost, you gained. She’d realised that after being exiled from Vault 13. She’d been reminded, bitterly, when she lost Ian, her consolation. Her everything. But she found Pat — well, his people. (Taken a year before she realised she’d found him.) Between his tribe’s skills in building and her determination to create a home for her children (her little daughter, and the one still unborn, the one who’d never known her father), they’d succeeded.

When she realised she couldn’t have another vault — ha! The thought sickened her, now — she wanted another Russia. Or, a Russia. A Russia her grandfather had told her of. The Russia in his books. Photos.

There’d been a little Russia in the architecture texts that her second husband had held so holy. Arroyo was his legacy, too. His hand was in the buildings here, the homes. Some he’d designed. Some he’d helped build. All of it, only possible with his help. Some had his hand more literally, in painted outlines. Hers, too. All of theirs, somewhere.

Arroyo was nothing like a vault. No sleek conformity. United, yes, and certainly beautiful, but not in the same way. The patterns that decorated the plastered walls were Russian, some of them, in parts; some patterns were from Pat’s tribe. Things they’d painted on walls raiders had torn down, before they’d met people who knew how to defend themselves. Some patterns were from the other people who’d made this place a home: from their grandparents, from their treasured books and photos, or simply things they’d seen in the wastes, making their way here. And some patterns were new. Just theirs. Together, it was all Arroyo.

Natalia shifted on the bench; leant her back more firmly against the wall of her home. She appreciated the stability of buildings. It wasn’t Russia she thought of, never having known it, and it wasn’t the vault. Perhaps it was Shady Sands. Yeah. Been a long while since she’d visited, but it still brought a smile to her face. And what was it about Shady Sands she’d sought to emulate here? The leadership of Aradesh and Tandi? Tandi, Tandi, her old friend — sometimes she wondered if they’d both see a hundred. They were headed that way. Where was Tandi’s Republic headed? She hoped she’d see.

Much as she admired Tandi, that wasn’t the reason Shady Sands was so dear to her. She was part of those old memories, a dear part — “Natasha, tell me about the vault! The Hub! The Boneyard! No, Natasha — I mean the boys!” — but not their focus.

Not many people left to call her Natasha, now. Shit. Maybe it was only Tandi. And, oh, she wanted to see her again, but Shady Sands was so far, and she was so old. They were both so old. And so busy. How many years had it been since they’d last met? Too many. At least there were letters.

And how many years without Ian? Hmm… sixty-seven. A lifetime, really.

What was it about today that was making her so melancholy? Some days, she thought it was a sign. That there’d be no tomorrow. But after being wrong a hundred times, she’d given up on that. Didn’t think it was any kind of anniversary, either, though she didn’t keep very good track of time. Why bother, when Olga had taken it over, for her dear old senile mother? Pfft.

Aww, maybe she was being unfair. Perhaps it had been Olga who’d trained to maintain her vault’s nuclear reactor, and Natalia who’d spent her teen years looking for omens and signs in every cloud, every corn husk.

It… was wrong to wish Katenka was still alive in her place, wasn’t it? Sweet Katenka never doubted her ability to work a calendar — though of course, she’d been dead for thirty years, and it would have been even more ridiculous back then. Katenka also laughed at Olga’s attempts to create a religion around their mother, just because she’d ‘saved the world’. Not that it got her any real respect from her second daughter. Yeah, she’d kept her predictions of her own death private after Olga started latching on to them, almost gleefully.

Terrible person, Olga. Heh — like mother like daughter. But… maybe a good job she’d never had kids. At sixty-six, she was leaning into the whole tribal elder thing. Natalia couldn’t understand it. Nor the way they looked the same age. The effects of the radiation in the wastes? Or maybe the effects of raising grandchildren. Kept you young.

Irina was an easy child. Or maybe Natalia had just gotten good at parenting after, shit, seventy years of it? How in the hell had she gotten so old? Well, maybe she’d gotten good at it, or maybe her standards had slipped. Whatever the case, Irina was turning out just fine. So fine, Olga liked to throw dice on the floor and declare that her niece was Arroyo’s Chosen One, whatever the hell that meant.

Eh. Everyone needed a hobby.

Natalia’s was storytelling, surrounded by impressionable young minds. Like some kind of respected authority figure — ha, a matriarch! — and not a teenage delinquent with arthritis and the beginnings of cataracts.

She told them of their parents, grandparents. (Her children, her friends, her husbands.) She told them of the founding of Arroyo. Spun morals out of it, too. All the different buildings — different sizes, different shapes, different paints — mostly in one style. Some aren’t, and that’s okay, too. All one village. One people, united.

Heh. Good, right? She wasn’t sure what moral there was in the temple, though. Yes, an honest to god temple, except it wasn’t honest to any god because it was… a folly. Pat’s Folly. If they call it folly, isn’t that a reason not to build it? she’d asked. As if anyone could have talked any of his people out of building anything, much less him, the most stubborn of the lot. And she remembered his response, given dozens of times during its construction. Her mouth formed his words. “Natasha, can’t life use a little folly?”

Fourty-four years he’d been gone.

But he lived on, in her heart. In this place. Its walls. Its people.

Especially his grandchildren. And Irina was rushing down to her now, between the buildings, dragging little Catherine behind. The cousins were inseparable, when Catherine wasn’t with her mother, or Irina with her substitute.

“Grandma! Grandma!”

“What’s the emergency?” Not that they really had them, in Arroyo. Raiders and radscorpions were easily seen off. She supposed the Brotherhood might have posed a threat, if they rocked up in their power armour, with their laser rifles, but why would they? If they’d noticed her slacking somewhat in her duties as an initiate over the last seventy years, they were yet to complain. “Hello, my flowers.”

Her granddaughters fell in a pile at her feet, panting for breath. “Grandma—”

“We were playing Master and Mutants—”

“I’m Mutants!” said Catherine, proudly.

“But we can’t remember how the vats worked. Did you get dunked in them or, or, tipped on your head?”

“Or drink them,” suggested Catherine.

“They didn’t drink them,” Irina asserted, and turned back to her grandmother. “I don’t think you ever told me, but I have to know to be the Master.”

Ah. No. The details of the FEV weren’t really suitable for an eleven year old. Or, maybe — Irina was mature for her age. Definitely not suitable for little Catherine, though.

“I wanna be Master, too, but I’m not old enough.” Her face split in a toothless grin. “Irina says I can be Master when I’m older than her!”

Irina dragged her foot in the dirt, and no longer met Natalia’s eye. “Yeah, so… maybe after your next birthday?”

“Yeah! I’ll be six!”

Natalia tried and failed to stifle her bark of laughter. “Ah. Irina. Don’t tell me you don’t understand how ages work. Do you need extra arithmetic lessons?”

She sighed. “No, Grandma. Catherine… ugh. You can be Master next time.”

“Yay!”

So she’d instilled counting and time, at least, and was still working on the value of being kind to small children and the otherwise stupid, but maybe she should have made the stories about the Master more frightening. She wasn’t sure how. Maybe pointing out that for better accuracy, they should both be the Master, together…

“Tell us the story about the Master again,” pleaded Irina.

“Yay! Storytime!”

“Alright. Let’s see…”

They knew the barest facts. They volunteered some themselves. Irina was proud of Katja’s part in it — her other grandmother. Catherine beamed up at her cousin, like Irina was Katja, like Irina had disarmed that super mutant lieutenant at Mariposa and saved Natalia and Ian’s lives. Natalia included some of the gory details of the fighting. Kids ate that shit up. She was never sure how much to share of what she’d found under the Cathedral. She still had nightmares of it, all these long years later. She told them how wretched it was, how wicked, but with a broad brush. The details weren’t really the important part, anyway.

How to put it? How to tell them that it wasn’t just that the Master, long dead, had been wrong. Wasn’t just what he was doing, his specific plans. It was… “Science can give us wonderful things,” she said, aiming for a neutral tone. “Like… uh…” She grimaced, and hoped they didn’t see. “Like vaults.”

“You’re from a vault!”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Vault 13! Like Feargus’ granddad! The one who wasn’t my dad, I mean.”

“Yes. And, uh…” She struggled to class Feargus as a wonderful thing. Oh, he was okay. Irina’s age. Katja’s great-grandson, and not one of Natalia’s lot. Though, Katja’s son had been Irina’s father, too, later. Oh, not that he’d been that much older than Julia at the time, but he’d gotten started earlier. Julia had called the whole thing a mistake, and to her credit, it was one she hadn’t repeated, at least. Morlis, Katja’s daughter, was still pissed off about it, years after her brother and the mother of his child had died, and held it against Irina, her own niece. That was the problem with Katja’s lot: they held grudges, even against relatives.

Uh. Unlike. Her.

Irina and Catherine were waiting patiently. A credit to them, an indication that she trailed off to reminisce more than she realised, or maybe both? “So… uh… stimpaks. Those are another wonderful scientific invention.”

“What’s a stimpak?”

“Hmm. They’re a kind of medicine, for when you’re badly injured. Very useful, but we don’t need to use them all the time.”

“Have to get sleepy powder…”

“That’s right. So, not all science is evil. Not all scientists are evil.”

“But most of them are,” said Irina, seriously.

“Yes.”

“But you defeated them!”

She had. She told them how, again. How she’d found help, not just from Ian and Katja, but from the Brotherhood of Steel and the Followers of the Apocalypse. Endlessly amusing to watch little mouths struggle around those. Apocalypse especially was a hard word to say. Maybe a hard word for these children to understand. Life was peaceful here. If they knew the world had ended, they never mentioned it.

Hard to explain some of the things she’d done. Not morally, no: she just left those out. Hoped none of them would ever need to learn to sneak up on people and knock them out. Or break their necks. Or even to pick a lock. Besides, if they did? She was probably too old to teach them. No, it was the rest. Explaining hacking terminals and forcefields to children who’d never seen either, or anything like it.

After the story came to its explosive end — and they whooped with joy — she watched them rush off to play another round of Master and Mutants.

Had they not listened? Or maybe it just didn’t matter. It was just a game. It wasn’t anything to do with what had really happened. She could only hope they’d remember in the future. She doubted she’d be here to correct them much longer.

That wasn’t all bad. Oh, she’d miss them. Of course she’d miss them. But they weren’t her only family.

Julia, her youngest daughter if she didn’t count Irina, had been gone for seven years. Irina seemed to remember her, but perhaps she only remembered the stories everyone told her of her mother. Julia… only forty, just like Katenka. Had she stolen their years from them? And then stolen their children. Nikolay, first, long before Irina was even born. Her only son. A fine young man. She saw more of Ian in him than of herself. She wished Ian was here to see him and his wife, a woman he’d met trading in Klamath. And then gotten pregnant here. She grinned to herself. Wouldn’t be her first great-grandchild, but every one made her feel so goddamn lucky.

Helped, maybe, that most of ‘em were Dubrovhskys. Neither of her husbands had had a surname. She might have insisted, regardless. She was the one popping them out. No-one but Ian for help, the first time.

Ian, Ian, Ian! She never went a day without thinking of both of her husbands, and her two missing daughters, but why was he so much on her mind today? Katja, too… much as she’d loved her, she could go days without thinking of her. Weeks, sometimes, if none of her progeny were causing problems. Ha! Or she could have, before she was raising Irina, maybe, and seeing her old friend in their shared granddaughter. And, oh, she was even thinking of her first dog, that stubborn little mutt. Loyal to the end.

Was this the end, then?

Ah… she was gonna tell Olga. Be something for one or the other of them to laugh about, at least.

Later.

“Grandma! Grandma!”

“Still here,” she chuckled. In fact, she hadn’t moved an inch. Which was how she liked it.

They skidded to their knees at her knee. “Grandma, tell us about the water chip again!”

“We’re gonna play Ghouls and Mutants,” Catherine gave her, by way of explanation.

Heh. Recurring theme. Sometimes she wondered how much truth there’d been to the Master’s words, about people born in the wastes. Vree hadn’t seen a problem with any of it — apart from the obvious — and neither had she. And she’d read and re-read that research until she’d memorised it. But these little girls didn’t look like mutants to her. No… they were adorable. Looked like Pat. His dark skin and curls. “The water chip, huh. That’s a better story than the Master, you know. That’s about the good in the world, not the evil. Hmm. The most important good in the world — which is either water or helping people. I can’t remember what moral I’m trying to impart.”

They shook their little heads. “Tell us about the ghouls, Grandma!”

She laughed. Ah, they were good kids. “Alright, alright. So there was this big old ruined city called Necropolis…”

“The city of the dead,” murmured Irina.

“Uh-huh.”

“And they had a water chip!” shouted Catherine, triumphantly.

“That’s right. I’m getting to that. You’re skipping ahead. Wait, so am I. It started in Vault 13…”