Salem stumbled forward onto her knees, gasping and wheezing as her makeshift coffin swung open, her body numb with artificial cold that pushed needles through her fingertips and chest aching with the fear from being trapped inside Vault-Tec's special kind of hell for who knows how long. From Nate, shot dead protecting their son. Nate, her dearest friend. Her husband.
Salem keeled further, knees under her chest and forehead pressing hard on her balled fists. A sob wracked through her and a hot tears slipped down her face, mussing the makeup she'd spent an hour on earlier in the day, when everything was simple. If only she'd died with the rest in their pods. Salem breathed out a sigh, one hand coming to wipe away the freezing dops of water that now dripped down her face from the frost that was now melting off her body. But she was alive, life was never that simple, and warmth that had once again begun to course her body reminded her of this. Salem forced herself to stand on weak, shaking legs that felt like they'd give any second.
She glanced about, eyes scanning the wall to wall chambers still packed with bodies in ice. She could barely see the faces of her neighbors through the frost on the windows without stepping closer, something she had no intent to do; unwilling to risk the sight of someone she'd cared for. Instead, she looked forward to see what she'd hoped was just a dream. She blinked away the worst of her tears and brought her gaze forward, coming face to face with the reflection of herself that overlapped Nate's terrified face, and found that she had a choice to make. Salem slumped down to the floor, back pressing against the cold panels her pod, and closed her eyes.
“I’ll find who did this.” The words pushed past her lips like a prayer, breathy and desperate, said more for her own comfort than for a dead man's.
Several more moments were spent in the company of only her own heaving breaths before Salem moved from her position, having managed to surpress her greif for at least the moment. “And I’ll bring Shaun home. I promise.” Then she stood again, the tremble not yet gone but fainter now, and left the chamber of corpses in their wrappings.
She tried calling out at first, only receiving the echo of her cracked voice in return. Assuming herself alone, she walked further, searching for anything to fill her in on what happened to the world while she was asleep. What had happened to her family.
Instead, she finds a gun. Never in her life had she handled a real gun, only the ones that the Zoo made her learn to use that shot darts loaded with sedative for when animals escaped their enclosures. She checks the safety and puts in fresh rounds before continuing, hands shaking with responsibility. With each step taken away from the frozen room Nate slips further from her mind. All Salem needs is to be free of this crypt, vengeance can come later, after her own survival.
Survival. The word sticks in her head like a dart as she steps over a skeleton to access a terminal. Evidently that wasn’t part of Vault-Tec’s plan when they put people down here.
“What the hell happened…?” she whispered to no one. “Am I the only survivor in the whole vault?” Salem settled down and began browsing through the Overseer’s documents.
“Oh no.” Once again tears started to fall as she navigated away from the pages. “Oh no no no, please don’t tell me they all starved to death waiting out the war.” The bodies she saw were clean bones in clothing that was turning to dust, clearly left for years after dying. That would have taken…
Salem wracked her brain for the information needed, but her anatomy lessons were from a long time ago, in another life.
“Shit…” Salem leaned back in her chair, fingers laced into her hair and palms over her eyes, a headache ebbing at the corners of her mind. Ten years, she’d decided eventually. It had to have been at least that long for people to be totally decomposed like this after the food ran out. Not to mention the roaches level of irradiation. The tell-tale tightening of her chest into a panic attack came quickly after her thoughts came.
“Okay…” Carefully, she regulated her breathing into a calm rhythm. “Okay. You’re no good when you’re panicked, you gotta calm down.” Heart racing but hands steadied she stood from the chair and hoisted her pistol again.
“There’s gotta be a way out, if the Overseer thought people would try to leave…” She reasoned, the soft sound of her own voice soothing in such a desperate situation. Creeping through hallways and killing off whatever came in her way for what seemed like an eternity Salem finally came to a new area, one which was composed of metal walkways above empty air and massive doors rusted away by time.
Going further she found a control panel. VAULT DOOR CONTROL shouted at her in faded red letters over unreadable black text, indicating to a covered button. A cracked laugh rang out, echoing in the dim corridor as she fumbled to try to open it.
The universe must be playing a trick on her. Her, the only survivor of the whole vault, who’d found her way here past the horrible mutated remnants of her world, who couldn’t open the doors outside.
“Are you fucking kidding me!?” In a fit of rage she fired at the case enclosing the button. The bullet ricocheted and fired off into the dark behind her. This startled her enough to dull a portion of her anger.
“Bull fucking shit.” She huffed. “One of these guys had to have had a key or a…” Her eyes fell to one skeleton tucked underneath the panel, like he’d been hiding in his last moments, and what adorned his wrist. “A Pip-Boy.” A slight smile formed, despite not knowing what she’d face outside, if the doors still even worked.
With every ounce of bravado still in her Salem clicked the device onto her arm, gasping when the needle used to read her vitals pushed into her arm, and popped the device that would set her free from her wrist and slamming it into it's slot. The case flipped open almost instantly and the button was pressed just as quickly.
“Vault door cycling sequence initiated. Please stand back.” The robotic voice rang out, but all Salem heard was angels singing just for her. She watched the walkway slide into position, then followed it out onto the same platform that she’d been dropped down here on with eager anticipation.
She ducked under the elevator gate as it rose, and gazed upwards with wide eyes as she ascended in the moments after, watching as ten tons of steel opened to daylight for the first time in 200 years.