"Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are."


She had always been such a quiet girl.

Nobody was really surprised that the daughter of Vault 101's soft-spoken physician had taken to solitary, intellectual pursuits. Even at age eight, she wasn't walking the path of the bookworm so much as trying to dive into it like some kind of swimming pool. She spent her days either sequestered in the library, pestering her teacher for ever more challenging texts, or simply picking a spot and thinking in it. To the average outside observer, little Julia simply wasn't interested in talking to people. It's likely if left alone, she would have continued on the path of quiet scholarship, maybe eventually becoming the schoolteacher herself. If she'd been born in a world where the Great War hadn't scorched the Earth with atomic fire, she could have become an astronaut, or more likely, a physicist. But these possible worlds were not to be, for on one fateful day in the library, someone did something nobody has really properly done before.

Somebody asked her a question.

Friday, March 8, 2267

"What does "despot" mean?"

Julia's eyes rose up from the microfilm reader and blinked a few times. Being snapped out of a reading trance was disorienting enough, without it being a treatise on basic particle physics. Not noticing the mildly stunned look on her would-be teacher's face, the girl pressed on.

"I'd ask Mr. Brotch, but he got mad last time I asked him about something Wally's dad said, and he said that "young girls shouldn't use such words" and he kept asking where I heard it and-"

"Stop." Julia held up a hand, managing briefly to halt the barrage of words being spewed at her. "...you're the Overseer's daughter, right?"

"Yep, I'm Amata!" she said cheerfully. "Anyway I figured since you're always reading, you might know what it meant."

"A despot is a ruler who holds absolute power, usually one who abuses it." Julia recited from memory. "I'm kind of surprised Mr. Mack even knew that word. He's kind of a dummy."

Amata giggled. "I think he's been reading Pre-War spy novels. What does "absolute power" mean though?"

"I don't know." the young scholar answered. "I read it in a book once."

Amata scrunched up her face in thought. "But.. if you don't know, do you really know what the word means?"

This hadn't actually occurred to our young protagonist before, having been accustomed to simply memorizing facts to spew out on cue. You take the tests, put in the right words, and smartness comes out, like remembering a password for a computer. Normally, she would just speak sharply at whoever questioned her intelligence, tell them to go away, and smother herself in memories of all her perfect test scores. But whether Amata's curiosity was infectious that day, or she was more disoriented from being interrupted than she thought, or she was simply more mature than before, this insight permeated into her brain, which quickly processed it and incorporated it into its processes.

"I guess not." she said after a lengthy pause. "...wanna help me find out?"

"Sure!"

Monday, July 13, 2268

Julia waited in a bare maintenance room with barely contained anticipation. Amata and her father had thrown her a surprise party for her tenth birthday! Even though there hadn't been any cake, Old Lady Palmer had given her a sweetroll, and she'd gotten to punch that jerk Butch DeLoria in the face. On top of that, she had her very own Pip-Boy! Technically those wrist-mounted computerized sensors were for work, but they could also store and display books. So far, this was the best day ever as far as she was concerned. And to top it all off, her father had told her to come down to the reactor level for a surprise. Bookworm or no, every child knows that birthday surprises are the best kind of surprises. Jonas Palmer, her father's assistant, had been there to greet her, but he refused to give up any hints about what was up. Fortunately, he arrived at the door before she started to consider bribery or violence in any meaningful capacity. He was holding a long, brown-wrapped package behind his back, though he pretended not to be as he walked over and smiled.

"Are you ready for your surprise?" he asked, eyes twinkling with mischievous amusement.

"What kind of surprise?" Julia asked eagerly.

"The Overseer gave you your Pip-Boy, and you're old enough to do some work. So I figure you're old enough for this. Your own BB gun! It's a little old, but it should work perfectly."

He handed it over, and the wrapping was off very quickly. Julia tested its weight, being careful to point it away from Jonas and her father (basic gun safety was covered in the security officer's manual, which was kept in the library, therefore she had read it at least twice).

"Jonas found it down here." her father explained. "It was in pretty rough shape - took us a good three months to find the parts to get it working again. You know how tough it is to find a spring that small? Good thing Butch "misplaced" that switchblade of his. Ha ha ha!"

Julia frowned, not sure what Butch's switchblade had to do with anything. Most of what she knew about that was that he was in a sour mood for a whole month over not having it anymore. Looking up from the toy rifle, she asked what seemed like the most pertinent question in what seemed like the most polite way.

"Why give me a BB gun?"

Ten year olds aren't really known for their tact. Fortunately, he'd anticipated that question, and was well-used to his daughter's mannerisms.

"I know how much time you spend alone reading, even if you have made a friend. Although reading is a fine activity, a young person such as yourself should have other hobbies. I know you've been enjoying those Doyle novels-"

Julia hid a quick blush. She really wasn't supposed to be reading about Professor Challenger at her age. Her father dispelled her doubts with a quick wink, and continued.

"-so I thought maybe you would enjoy learning to shoot. So, what do you think? Want to give it a try?"

Filled with enthusiasm both at being caught up in the moment and her father's unexpected complicity in her rule-breaking, she eagerly nodded. Then, she remembered the "reactor" part of "reactor level".

"Wait, here? We can't shoot a gun here!" she exclaimed frantically.

"We sure can't, unless we want the Overseer beating down our door. Jonas and I have found a place, though. C'mon!"

He led the trio through a corridor to a small area sectioned off with debris. There stood some old bullseyes mounted on poles, the type that would spin when shot. With a nod of encouragement from Dad, she knelt down, took careful aim.. and missed by a mile. She'd done everything the manual had said, why didn't it work? She looked up at her father imploringly, and he knelt down and offered some advice.

"Take your time, honey. Breathe slowly, sight down the barrel, and squeeze the trigger. Like so.."

He took hold of the barrel and lined it up with her eye, showing her how to use the sights. The next shot managed to graze the target, and the third was a proper bullseye. Soon, the other two targets were spinning as well. Then, a giant bug crawled into the target zone. Her father stiffened slightly, but noted that it wouldn't be able to escape the enclosed space.

"Careful!" he said in a sharper tone. "It's a Radroach. Think you can take care of that with your BB gun? Just aim and shoot. You'll be fine. Just aim for the head - a good headshot will do a lot of damage to most anything."

Julia had heard of radroaches. Giant cockroaches that had lived in radiation for hundreds of years, they were a particularly nasty sort of pest found in the darker areas of the Vault. If you weren't careful, one could kill a man. Swallowing with nervousness and feeling a cold sweat drop slide down her back, Julia took careful aim at the unreasonably large bug. A quick "pop" and a "splat" and the bug was no more.

"Good work!" said her father, beaming with pride. "I doubt Professor Challenger could have done any better. Hey, Jonas, get a picture of me with the big game hunter!"

As she took up a place by her father's side, a wave of joy and pride washed over her. Maybe there really was more to life than books - maybe reading could help with actually doing things, too!

Jonas aimed the camera with a big grin.

"Smile!"

Tuesday, October 7, 2272

"I still think it would have been funnier if they'd understood it."

Amata kicked her Vault-issue boots off and flopped onto her bed, continuing.

"I mean, what's the point of rhyming weird insults if they're just going to make that "durr" face when you break out the grown-up words?"

Julia just grinned, unrepentant. "Oh come on, you know how those three are, they're inseparable! How often do we catch Butch and Wally without Paul? I had to take the chance while I had it."

"The chance to call them a "pair of pathetic peripatetics"?" Amata countered skeptically, crossing her arms. "That doesn't even make sense!"

"I had to pick something weird enough that they wouldn't have a ready retort." Julia said, gesturing with a hand for emphasis. "If I hear them say "well so's your face" one more time, they're each getting a kick in their "Tunnel Snakes"!"

Amata snorted at that mental image. "Still, you know my father would get on your case if you got in another fight. I don't know why he allows Butch and his wackos to keep pestering people."

"There's a lot the Overseer does that's just plain weird." Julia admitted. "Honestly, I could run this place better than he does. Er, no offense, Amata."

"No, I think you're right." Amata said, sitting bolt upright. "I think you're righter than you usually are, even."

"What are you talking about?" Julia said, eyes narrowed. "Is this another one of your "plans"?"

"No!" Amata denied emphatically, before reconsidering. "Well, yes. But you're going to help! This won't be like the Incident in the Smoking Lounge, I promise!"

"I hope not, they still haven't managed to fix the place up, and Andy still gets that weird twitch in his waldoes whenever he goes near there." Julia said, shuddering.

"Never mind that!" Amata said, huffing. "What I'm thinking is, if we don't like how my father is running the Vault, we should take over!"

"...a conspiracy?" Julia asked with an eyebrow raised. "You think your father is just going to let us take over his office?"

"Well, we won't ask him!" Amata said, sliding even further into her enthusiasm for the plan. Julia slid her face into her palm as Amata kept talking. There wasn't going to be an easy way out of this one.

"We'll need a secret code, and a club charter, and a code name for the group - something way better than Butch's dumb gang. "Tunnel Snakes", bleck!"

"It should at least be something not connected to us personally, so we can at least pretend to have plausible deniability." Julia sighed, giving in to the madness for the time being. "What about naming it after someone obscure? Like a mathematician or something. Here, I'll pick a book at random.. How about "The Army of Thomas Bayes"?"

"Too wordy." Amata said, waving a hand dismissively. "But.. yes. We'll call it "the Bayesian Conspiracy"!"

"We're so going to get grounded."

Monday, August 3, 2274

"As far as I can tell, you're a perfectly healthy 16-year-old girl. So yes, you have to go to class to take your G.O.A.T. exam!"

Julia Mateus sat facing her father, squinting at the light from his opthalmoscope. She wasn't looking forward to this day. Tests, she liked. Standardized, impenetrable tests, less so.

"But Dad, I'm sick! Really!" she tried to plead. Even to her ears, it came out more as a whine.

"No, you're not." he said, bemused. "Really." He got up and started to pace around the room a bit, as was his custom when making his little speeches. "When I started studying medicine, one of the first things I learned was how to spot a kid playing sick to get out of taking a test! You'll do fine. It's not so bad. Everyone has to take it when they're sixteen. I had to, you have to, and so does everyone else."

He turned to look Julia in the eye, as if to emphasize his next point.

"And most everyone makes it through without a scratch."

Sensing defeat, she took one last chance to try and gather info before facing the Dire G.O.A.T.

"What do you know about the G.O.A.T.?" she asked just before he turned away. He sat back down and re-entered what Julia had come to think of as "lecture mode".

"The Generalized Occupational Aptitude Test. G.O.A.T.!" he said, wincing in sympathetic pain for acronyms everywhere. "Everyone here in the Vault takes it when they're sixteen. Helps to figure out what sort of job you'll have here in Vault 101 when you get a bit older. So, pay attention and try not to fall asleep."

"Yes, Dad." Julia said, hopping down and rolling her eyes.

"Please, honey, please take these achievement tests seriously. The last thing I need is you mother's ghost haunting me because her only child became a- a garbage burner." He spoke the last two words with the voice of someone saying "booger slug".

"I will, Dad." Julia said, meeting his gaze. "I'll make you both proud."

With one last hug, she headed off to the classroom and was soon under the appraising gaze of one Edwin Brotch, schoolmaster and champion snarker two years running.

"Well, you made it. All set for the G.O.A.T.? Trust me, it really isn't that bad. Just something everybody has to go through. Don't worry, you'll do fine. As soon as everyone's found a seat, we'll get started..."

SIX HOURS LATER

A cabal of around twelve cloaked figures sat in a darkened room in the lower levels of Vault 101. Each had arrived separately, having heard the secret sign encoded within the daily Vault public announcements. At the head of the room, two lone figures stepped into the light- a tall young woman of Indian complexion, and a pale one with dark hair and dark green eyes, also cowled.

"This meeting of the Bayesian Conspiracy is hereby called to order. So says I, Madam Bleuel." Julia said, banging a gavel on her handy podium. "Madam Greene, the report."

Amata, incognito, stepped in to take the podium ceded to her. "Our plans are progressing well. Thanks to Agent Candid's efforts, Madam Bleuel and I have managed to obtain very influential positions within the Vault hierarchy."

"The Generalized Occupational Aptitude Test can't be cheated like that." came a voice from the mass of cloaks. "You took the exam and were assigned jobs like everyone else."

"Honestly, Candid, do you expect us to believe that?" came the sardonic voice of Julia Mateus, master of the Conspiracy. "Nobody besides me has even heard of a "Vault Loyalty Inspector", and that's because I spent my childhood reading instead of making friends."

"I have to maintain some of my schoolmaster's mystique." he said, grinning. "How else am I supposed to enjoy my job?"

Julia made a gesture similar to a fencer's salute, and motioned for Amata to continue the briefing.

"With myself on the supervisory track, and Bleuel as an independent power sanctioned by the Vault Charter, we should be in position to completely oust the Overseer within four years. I'll be trained in the interim, and we'll have to graduate before any of this takes effect. You each have a task to complete to ensure the transition of power is as complete as it is bloodless. We'll use this time wisely, and in four years, we'll bring democracy to the Vault!"

THREE YEARS LATER

Friday, August 17, 2277

"Wake up! Come on, you've got to wake up!"

Julia's mind struggled to complete its POST as it was jolted into a very cold boot process.

"Gzlfrt. Whazzat? Leemee lone. 'm trying to sleep."

Amata took Julia's shoulders and shook them. "No! You've got to get up. Right now! Your dad is gone and my father's men are looking for you!"

Now that got Julia's attention. Her brain initiated an emergency bootstrapping process into adrenaline mode, aided by noticing the Vault emergency klaxon sounding outside.

"Wait, what? Is this Case SCARLET?" she asked, referring to one of their pre-arranged scenarios regarding the unmasking of the Conspiracy.

"No! It's some unholy fusion of SCARLET, OCHRE and fucking herpes oh GOD-" Amata was clearly just hanging onto her wits.

"OCHRE and SCARLET?" Julia asked, walking Amata through the familiar steps of their plans to try and get her to focus. "So the Overseer knows about us, and there was an external factor in play. Guessing that's my dad?"

Her brain did a quick double take.

"Wait, what? What did you mean, he's gone?"

Amata sat down on the floor at the foot of the bed.

"He's left the Vault! I don't know how, but he's gone, and my father... he's kind of gone crazy. He's ranting about "treason to the Vault" this and "purges" that!"

Julia knee-crawled over and put a hand on Amata's shoulder. "I've never seen you so scared, Amata. What happened?"

The taller girl let out a sob and said, "My father's men think Jonas helped your dad escape. They caught him and brought him to my dad's office and they... oh my God..."

Julia was running on far too much adrenaline to process that emotionally, so she pushed it aside for more practical matters. She held Amata's hand for a bit while she composed herself, and attempted to think things through.

Okay, I never saw this particular situation coming, but this falls within established parameters. Projected solutions for SCARLET were never all that positive, and OCHRE turning out well depended largely on the external factor being beneficial. Is this beneficial? I have no goddamned idea, we were never really able to plan for anything outside of the Vault. But... Dad. Why would he leave the vault? Possibilities: Was he suicidal? Unlikely, there's way easier ways to kill yourself. Was he just trying to escape the Overseer? Doubtful. As chief medic, he had the Overseer's allegiance, if not his loyalty. Then, what? Did he need something out there? How would he know about anything out there? That doesn't really make sense. None of this makes sense. Focus on the immediate. Case SCARLET means that I'll be actively hunted by security forces. None of our hideouts can be presumed safe in the event of active searches, we went by on need more information.

"Amata." Julia said her name to focus her attention. "Are you back?"

"Yeah." she said. "It's just been a hell of an evening so far."

"We'll need to work together if we want to survive this." Julia said, holding her gaze steady. "Now, I had my lights off because I was sleeping - but why are the rest of the lights off?"

"My father ordered the Vault into lockdown." Amata explained, finishing up her emotional control by slipping back into old patterns of back and forth plotting. "Emergency lighting only. The Radroaches have swarmed out in the darkness. I had a few close calls on my way to see you. It's lucky in a way - security's been distracted dealing with the Roaches, but that won't last forever. We've got to get moving."

Julia began gathering items from her quarters - medical supplies from the first aid kit, her old baseball bat, the BB gun. While she gathered, she continued thinking.

If security is busy, I might actually be able to move around if I'm careful. Radroaches are at best a distraction, but I can use that. Trouble is, where do we go? Nowhere in the Vault can really stay safe. The Overseer can't really avoid making an example of a political rival in a situation like this. I'd rather not do a Butch Cassidy ending here, either. And that means...

She stuffed the last of the stimpacks into a large knapsack made out of a bedsheet and the baseball bat, and turned to Amata.

"I need to escape the Vault." she said, simply.

"It won't be easy." she said, checking the corridor. "My father sealed the door to the exit to prevent anyone else from following your dad. But I overheard them talking - there's a secret tunnel that leads directly from my father's office to the exit. You'll have to hack the computer in his office to open it."

"I should be able to manage to 'hack' in." Julia said, rolling her eyes. "Is his master password still 'amata'?"

"I don't think he even knows how to change it." Amata admitted. "While you're there, if you have time, see if you can find any useful information. I don't know how useful his database would be in the outside world, but it's worth a look."

"Sounds like a plan, then. Let's go!" Julia said, getting ready to creep out the door.

"One more thing." Amata said, holding out a standard security-issue 9mm semiautomatic. "I stole my father's pistol. I hope you won't need it, but you'd better take it just in case."

"Thanks, Amata." Julia said, pocketing the weapon. "I'll only use it as a last resort, I promise."

"Okay. I'll try to meet you at the exit. Watch out for security. Good luck!"

And with that, she vanished into the darkened corridor.

Guess that's it, then. Julia thought to herself, casting one glance back at the only home she'd ever known. Time to do or die... literally.

A/N:

This is the first draft posted for people to see and comment on, so expect it to change a fair amount over time. That said, welcome!

I'm going to try and keep this reasonably close to canon - we'll hit most of the same points, at least. The way we get there and the reasons for going there will likely be different, though.

There are a few primary points of departure:

First, the Wanderer is smart. The Courier was fairly clever, but the Wanderer always seemed incredibly reactionary to me. They were just begging for additional agency, and now they have it. Julia will plan, grow as a person, and things will start to change in response to that. At the very least, all her choices will make *sense*.

Second, and I'm mentioning this now even though we won't get there for a while, my Wanderer and Courier are the same person. Accordingly, I'll have tweaked the timeline a bit. Nothing major, just shifting a few things around. Dates, places, items, that sort of thing.

Third is perhaps the most significant and major one, [REDACTED] [REDACTED] will be found much earlier, [REDACTED]ing [REDACTED]. Not a joke, I'll unspoiler this when it comes time. Don't want to ruin the reveal.

Oh, and yes, some of the dialogue here is the same as in the games. I'm going to try to minimize that going forward, but at least to start, I want Fallout people to be able to ground themselves in the plot. As for non-Fallout people, the exposition serves the same purpose as in the game.