|Killing the Cat
Author: RocketLawnchair PM
Ryan has left the only home she's ever known to seek out her wayward father and her only hope of survival in this desolate Wasteland falls on the shoulders of a rather unconventional companion; one of which wants nothing to do with her. M for language.Rated: Fiction M - English - Adventure/Humor - Jericho & Lone Wanderer - Chapters: 2 - Words: 4,666 - Reviews: 5 - Follows: 4 - Updated: 04-01-12 - Published: 10-29-11 - id: 7506347
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Metal ground against metal as tumblers rolled over one another, devices rusted and rigid from the years of neglect, never meant to be opened only to be sealed – yet despite order, against all those rules, she forced her weight into the crank, coaxing the Vault door open, permitting her access to the forbidden land on the other side, bathing that cold, almost medical interior with the warming rays of a long forgotten sun. Stepping over that threshold was like being born again, the natural light of that burning celestial body blinding to unaccustomed eyes, veiling the world in a glare of white. A pallid hand rose, shielding her face from the glare. It was warm, rich, unadulterated, crashing down over her in a pleasant embrace, a hot breeze rolling over the waves of sand, swirling the dirt and dust about her feet, tugging at that navy blue jumpsuit, enthusiastically ushering her forward. With a hesitant motion, she planted her right foot down into the soil.
This was D.C, the capital – or former capital, whether or not it was still operational (if only somewhat) was a mystery, a stark wasteland pocked with craters, a sea of sand and rock, a place that hardly resembled the grandeur it once was, unraveled in the hands of warfare, falling to deplorable conditions, poisoned by radiation, greed and bloodlust. This once magnificent and proud marker of the map, crumbling and decaying into a mere shadow of its former self, a true shame to look at, this place had gone to the grave. No longer a city, but a Wasteland, filtered through a screen of greys and browns, ultimately depressing to the few innocent souls that haunted the torn up landscape, living out the last of their dismal lives wading through the radiation until it finally pulled them under.
The air was thick with toxic emissions, a tough drink to swallow, lining your lungs and throat like molasses. It was a stale breeze, hot and sticky, tearing the stench of death off the bodies of those caught in the storm of nuclear warfare, carrying the dust from the Earth and the almost pleasant odor of radiation. Even in the freshest of airs the scent still clung to your nostrils reminding you.
In a time of intracity war once celebrated symbols began to crumble. Arched bridges sinking into the very bodies of waters they had once towered over, twisted and fractured, rolling over into the pits of since dried basins. The pavement warped and broken, metal bars that made up the skeleton of this massive body, now found themselves peeking through those fractures like broken bones, piercing through the exposed interior. Those pillars that had resisted the push of the atomic explosions tore up through the empty horizon like splinters, bits of suspension still clinging to their posts, dipping down into the sad puddles of water that remained, swaying in the subtle tide, curling across the sandbars like enormous serpents, slick bodies glittering in the light of the sun. Mounds of rubble poked up through those sinking tides, trodden vehicles rearing busted bumpers and shattered headlights, wayward chunks of bridge rest in the bed of moist sands, empty platforms to an empty land.
Stepping over that threshold – it was like leaving a dream. This was the real world, this was what the Earth had become – a barren wasteland and nothing more – this is what her father had fled to, given up Paradise for.
She felt the gentle caress of a warm breeze on her cheek, tugging at the stray strands of black hair that hung around her face, wisps that had been just too short to thread through her hair band into that messy ponytail she wore. The Vault door swung shut behind her – and now she too had left that world behind. One hand still to the sky, the other brushed those pesky strands from her brow, tucking them behind her ear.
It was only now she realized how ridiculous a task this was, realizing finally how hard it would be to track her fleeing father through a desolate Earth with no street signs to go by. Where would he go in a world so broken? Was there even a place TO go? She kept that one hand raised, neglecting the sun passage to her ghostly face as she curled her other arm across her chest. Her Pip Boy screen flickered to life, a simplistic map of the world etched into the deep green backdrop in a clear lime light. An awkwardly shaped triangle marked her presence on the world, just a few steps free from the Vault that had been her home for twenty years. Even technology couldn't save her, the only visible landmarks being her own shadow on the world and the home she'd left for good. Her attention swiveled back to the "road," the only thing that seemed to have a sense of direction, or at least had. She could only hope it didn't leave her stranded at some dead end in the middle of this nuclear dump.
With uncertain steps she tore herself from the only comforting piece she had in this world, each and every footfall bringing her that much closer to her father and that much further from the Vault.
She trekked over the exhausted Earth, following splintered roadways, passing abandoned cars and toppled trashcans, empty cola bottles rolling along that rocky path, clinking against stone and glass like wind chimes to the wanderers. This beaten down "yellow brick road" of hers snaked its way through the desert, crawling over a horrifically scarred landscape. And for a long while it brought nothing but emptiness, that same repetitive scene haunting her as she went.
Hours crept by, shadows elongating on that rocky road as the sun began its dip into the horizon. Her travels had yet to lead her to any sort of hospitality, any organization of life, only skeletons of crippled buildings lost to the fires and radiation of nuclear bombs, rising up out of the ground, crooked and jagged fingers clawing for the sky. Places of which donned wooden boards for "windows," panes caked with petty vandalism, graffiti marked once pristine bricks. Vibrant colors washed away by a breeze of war and crime, the smog of this wasteland casting its mark, painting over the buildings with a thick and heavy grime. Twisted mailboxes marked them home to long since deceased owners, doors swinging loosely in the breeze, hinges barely holding them in place.
A small town, or what was left of it, bites taken out of the side of buildings, lone standing chimneys proud before the wreckage, an old water tower that had since dried, leaning heavily to the side, rusted from the winds and rains, just like the rest of the world around it. At the center of its remains stood the badly worn 'Red Rocket' station, a stark platform supporting the shell of a vehicle and a filth encrusted Nuka Cola Machine, light still flickering as it clung onto that last bit of mechanical life.
It was a silly idea, ridiculous even to think it, but maybe, just maybe, she'd luck out and find a bottle of soda still chilled from the years of incarceration within that convenient fridge. Minutes had slowly turned over into hours, the girl having walked the better half of the day away. A drink and a seat would be a nice reprieve from her extensive quest. She wedged her fingers into the crevice of the machine, pulling the face from body and exposing the inner workings of the device. As luck would have it, one single bottle of Nuka Cola remained, delicately perched, and ready to vend. She plucked the glass from its hold and closed the machine.
Ashen fingers twisted the cap from the bottle's lip, eliciting a sigh from within. It wasn't overly cold, but it was better than nothing. She turned her back on the machine, settling down on the steps of the old 'Red Rocket' and pressing the bottle to her lips. She tilted the butt to the air, eagerly gulping down the fizzy liquid within.
Her name was Ryan, a young Vault dweller of the age of twenty, an average girl on every level: an average face, an average body and an average smile, the only thing that seemed above average was her pampered past of living in the Vault. Her skin took on a sickly pallor, subpar sun lamps providing only just enough nourishment to the body and not enough to impinge a healthy hue upon her body. She greatly contrasted the world around her, donning the blue and yellow jumpsuit with her designated Vault number stitched into its fabric. Unlike those of the Wastes, she hadn't been exposed to the harsh environments, to the radiation poisoning and toxins of this dead Earth. Reality had yet to leave its mark, carefully plotting its assault as it sharpened its blade, itching to scar the flawless body of flesh and mind. All Ryan knew was a cosset life, tended to and cared for by others, watched over by the Overseers, regulated by the very same. But this, this world was very different – it was harsh and it was unforgiving, and in a place like this, a girl like her didn't last all too long. In fact, Raiders and Wanderers went out of their way for Vault inhabitants like her, jealous and bitter to the fact that people of her type had been saved the atrocities of war, allowed a perfect life safe from harm, fed daily, with regular checkups, everything to keep them healthy. To them, they were teaching these rich fucks a lesson – teaching them just how real the world could be.
As she sparingly sipped at her Cola she could feel it gnawing at the back of her mind, that inkling feeling of regret, that worry that she were to never find her father, that she had left all she knew to chase after a man with an insane dream. There was nothing left out here, nothing but trash and forgotten memories. Why would he leave such a perfect place for this? What had he run to?
She rested elbows on bent knees, staring down the world around her as if somewhere amongst the destruction there would be a sign, a light, an arrow – something to mark her path. And that's when she noticed it:
How had she missed that? She scrambled from her seat, a now empty Nuka Cola bottle marking her presence in the desolate town. The rusted old scrap metal stood up as a road sign for the remaining masses of the world, brightly painted letters scrawled over its ridged body with a friendly arrow denoting the correct path of travel. This was her sign! If her father had come this way as well, there was no doubt in her mind that he too would have followed the direction of this conveniently placed marker. Her gaze swiveled to the side, peering down the indicated path, spying the tip of civilization over the rolling sands.
She would have preferred to stick to the safety of the roads, the determined pathway a simple comfort in a world so lost, but even still, she supposed she could brave the short hike through the desert, decision influenced heavily by the idea of civilization, following a broken roadway held no promise of such whereas the sign specifically pointed her the way.
The walk to Megaton was a short one and rather uneventful. Ryan followed the few signs that dotted the unofficial road through the desert, clambering over rock and gravel to make her way to that walled in township.
"Welcome. To. Megaton. Friendliest. Town. Around."
She was drawn from her own inner musings by the computerized voice. Just outside that gated community stood a humanoid shaped bucket of bolts, an egg shaped body welded atop a pair of sturdy legs. It pivoted from side to side, the yellow shield of glass that made up its face blinking with every spoken word.
"Please. Stand clear. Of the gate."
Its wording was rehearsed, automated statements put on loop, introductions and directions, it barely even seemed to register that Ryan was even present, continuing its scan of the environment, rotating from side to side.
"Have. Yourself. A. Nice visIT. Part-ner."
Her eyes remained focused on the anomaly as she passed it by, half expecting the thing to move as soon as she turned her back. And once she had, it simply maintained its perpetual turn cycle, repeating that same programmed speech over and over.
The metal gate swung open with great effort, introducing the young Vault dweller to one of the many settlements that flecked the Wastelands. It was nothing like she would have expected, not that she could rightly say she had expected much. It was a town built out of the destruction, born of scrap metal and past memories with crudely constructed shacks stacked atop one another in a real life interpretation of Jenga. The inhabitants to this rudimentary settlement had made the best of what they'd been left with, scavenging all they could to create a sort of safe haven. Ribbed metal provided a gated shelter, the hull of aircrafts and demolished homes providing enough scrap metal to create a home out of, crooked posts provided connecting points for strings of lights, providing the town with a primitive lighting system.
Rising over those simplistic homes stood Moriarty's Saloon, its sign a beacon among Megaton, neatly painted lettering atop its sign post drawing the newcomer's eye from that indistinguishable grey of the world. It was here that most of the people of Megaton congregated, flocking to its grimy countertop, relinquishing handfuls of bottlecaps for just one more drink, the only thing that seemed to brighten up this bleak world and numb the pains brought along with it.
She followed the sharply sloping hill down, pulling herself deeper into the town. An enormous water pipe followed her down, snaking alongside her, diving into the ground and disappearing beneath the dirt before breaking through the surface once more on the other side. Somehow, someway, these people had managed an irrigation system drawing irradiated water from the Earth and into their little community. Of course, the wear of harsh desert winds had done their job well, scraping coarse bodies over already rusted piping, eliciting small streams of unhealthy water through ever growing cracks.
She could feel the eyes of the men and women of Megaton on her as she descended the steps into their home. She was an outsider, a stranger, and not only that – she was wearing a Vault Jumpsuit. They leaned in to one another, exchanging quiet commentary, lost to the whistle of the winds, casting accusatory glances. Whatever they were saying, Ryan doubted it was good. Friendliest town around? Yeah right. Whoever had programmed that bucket of nails outside must have been either deaf or blind...or both.
At the base of this plain and simple stairway she found the reason for the town's title. Nestled there in a crater of its own creation sat an undetonated Atomic Bomb, its own venom seeping out into the puddle of water that had formed around it. And yet, despite the ever present dangers, these people flocked to it, had built a city around it, and even worshipped it.
"Behold the power of Atom, let those who dwell here…"
She watched with a furrowed brow as the cleanly dressed settler prayed before the device, ignorant to the poison dampening his clothes and sinking into his body, oblivious to the danger presented by this unstable time bomb. That…or being the very thing he worshipped.
"Ey! Watch where you're goin' asshole!" She had been so distracted by the wonder of it all, she had barely even noticed the man and even less time to avoid colliding with him. It wasn't exactly like she had barreled into him, a simple bump on the shoulder blown far out of proportion by a man with a fuse shorter a candle's wick.
"Sorry," she immediately backed up, holding her hands up defensively. Seriously. Who had programmed that robot?
"Goddamn right you're sorry." He was a man accustomed to the harsh environments, the very same harshness reflected in his glazed eyes, reeking of stale cigarettes, cheap booze and even cheaper women. He looked dreadfully out of place, toting a rifle on his back, donning scarred armor and a piss-poor attitude, austerely contrasting the simplistic people that broke around him, avoiding him like a rock amongst waves. Ryan, of course, had the good fortune to bump into him – literally.
"Uh, I'm sorry," she repeated, lowering her hands back to her side, attempting what she'd hoped to have been a steady conversational tone, "I'm looking for my father-" the words barely left her lips before the man's second assault,
"Are you fuckin' kiddin' me?" He scowled, "The fuck do I look like, an information booth? Go botha' somebody else."
She pursed her lips, brow raised to the utter disregard for hospitality. Were the rest of the inhabitants to be so rude?
The man hesitated a moment, brow narrowing as his eyes fell over her, taking in that bizarre uniform she donned. No way. She was a Vault dweller? Well why not? Kid was pasty as all hell and had a head full of rocks, had to of seeing as she had braved the desert sands without so much as a pistol at her side. He cocked his head to the side, "Tell you what kid," he drawled, "You buy me a drink and I'll tell you where ya' daddy went." Empty promises for another hit of that inexpensive swill, but what did he care, being an ex-raider there weren't many morals left to his name, just a slew of bounties and big dollar signs. Besides, what threat did she pose to him?
"Uh," she paused, allowing a moment to mull over the offer. A drink for information, it seemed fair enough…I mean…can't get something for nothing right? Especially not now. She tested her pockets for money, knowing full well she had more fingers than bottlecaps. Should she waste them all on a shot of whiskey or should she attempt to poke around? If this ex-raider had been witness to her father's travels surely another man within town had seen him pass through. Perhaps would even freely exchange that information. She was hardly keen on the idea of buying this man a drink, but she was even less inclined to sniff around town where she knew full well she wasn't wanted.
Hesitantly, the words slipped from her lips, "I suppose I could do that…"
It would only be a couple of caps, nothing to leave her twisting in the wind and plus – if this man had any information on her father it would be money well spent. As long as he kept his head and his promise after the drink.
"Great. What's yer name, kid?"
"Ryan," a nervous hand found its way to her hair, combing fingers through jagged strands as she introduced herself, "And you?"