After the Vault: Chapter 01
Disclaimer: I do not claim ownership of Fallout or anything that comprises it. This is a non-profit story written solely for my own enjoyment and that of anyone who wishes to read it. The story and all original characters are mine. Please don't use them without permission.
Story notes: This story takes place after the events of the original Fallout game, but no knowledge of the game itself is required to read it. I am simply using the Fallout universe as my irradiated playground, and exploring a possible central USA after the bomb.
Like the games it will explore several dark themes, contain heavy levels of violence and profanity at times, and feature situations that some readers (and some of the characters!) may consider unethical.
Updates may be sporadic, for which I apologise in advance. Finally, this story will feature lesbian romance, but I'm not about to apologise for that!
After the Vault
-A Fallout Fan-Fiction by Nutzoide-
From A World of Night-Lights...
Lying on her bunk, her legs crossed and swinging idly against the wall, Abigail toyed with the little blue book that sat on her pillow, all the while bathed in the dusky glow of the room's single 40 watt light bulb.
The book matched every other diary that had been provided in the vault, with a yellow '42' emblazoned in bold, bright yellow type in the bottom corner, and at the base of the spine. The same number sat both on the left breast of Abigail's equally blue jumpsuit and in huge yellow numbers across the back, as it did on every one of the 1,999 other identical jumpsuits in Vault 42.
As fashions went it was rather criminal, but when there was nothing else to wear a girl got used to it. Especially since she had never known anything else in the way of clothing. That constant shade of blue, and that single bright number, was as much a part of life in the vault as 'Coca-Cola' had been on the surface, both before and after its atomic age re-branding. It was printed and painted and sewn everywhere and onto everything that had ever existed in their underground city.
Abigail only knew the 'Coke' brand (or 'Nuke' as it had become, a poor choice in her greatly more cynical, post war eyes) from that book in her hands. She had read and re-read it over and over since she had been six years old. Her late grandmother had missed the drink terribly when she and her family had first entered the vault, or so the diary told.
'October 23, '77 – Mom says we all have to start a new diary now. I'm inside the vault, because they said on the T.V. that the war started after all, and we had another bomb raid drill today. I hoped it wouldn't happen, because we were just waiting and nothing was happening. The bombs should reach us soon, but we'll be safe here underground. I wish more people came. Everyone was panicking too much and saying it wasn't real and not everybody came. Mom says we have to stay here for ten years. I'll be grown up by then. I don't want to grow up down here. Can't they at least turn the lights up? It's hard to write like this.'
Abigail looked up at the gentle light bulb. It seemed fine to her, but her grandmother had complained about it even on her deathbed. All the technology to make an underground city for a thousand people to escape from 'The Bomb', and they couldn't provide stronger light bulbs.
But, as Abigail had been taught, more than a few things had not gone to plan in the vault. Even from the start, of the 1,000-person capacity that the vault had, only 643 beds were filled before the great door closed.
The ten years that her grandmother had written of had passed slowly, but they had also passed silently, with no word from the world outside. The government of America, and the controller vault, had never made a single transmission. Ten years had become fifteen, and fifteen, for safety's sake, and become twenty. After that it had been clear that they were on their own, and with their Garden of Eden Creation Kit (tm) in their hands, the exploration party had ventured up the elevator beyond the very first floor, to the surface.
Not one of them survived. Her grandmother's account of it was almost illegible, but after thirteen years of study Abigail knew it by heart. The Garden of Eden Creation Kit (tm) had been one of those miracles of technology, like the AppleSoft Think Machine (tm) computer that ran the vault. It was to have been the instrument that would allow the vault to open and reclaim the nuclear wasteland that America would undoubtedly become. Micro terraforming and chemical atmosphere reprocessing in a single shining suitcase.
After taking the off-the-chart radiation reading from within the cave that hid the vault's giant steel door, the twenty man team stayed above ground only for the hour that the kit required to be made functional, and every one of them had taken the advertised dosage of anti-radiation medication. Twelve of them had made it back to the elevator before the horrific levels of radiation had killed them outright. Six survived the three-minute elevator journey back to the vault. Even with all the state of the art medical supplies within the vault, only two survived the night, to die the following day.
The door was sealed tight again, the elevator decontaminated, and Abigail's grandmother had cried throughout the hero's funeral that had been held for those poor, ill-fated men. The radiation had been stronger than anyone could have guessed, the Garden of Eden Creation Kit (tm) had been clumsy and difficult to activate, and the advertised dosages of preventative medication had been woefully inadequate.
The much vaunted G.E.C.K. had been activated, but the people of Vault 42 had been cheated. The Overseer, the ultimate human authority within the vault, made a public apology to the people he was supposed to have led to safety. He recorded his purging of the AppleSoft Think Machine (tm) administrative and government records and security restrictions, severing ties with the non-existent outside authority. He announced that they would become their own independent state, and apologised for his willing part in what he called 'the government of America's great vault fiasco'.
No one ever did discover just what he meant by that. He had taken his own life that same night, and had purged the evidence of his culpability along with the records. It had been a dark new start for Vault 42, but a new council of Overseers was voted into office, and though the ten years of generous expected supplies had run low a careful new system of rationing and vault maintenance was put into place. Faith in the Garden of Eden Creation Kit (tm) had fallen, so a new, longer-term view of vault life had been adopted.
And, most needed of all, the ban on the conception of children was finally lifted. If they were to survive, a new generation could no longer be thought of as a drain on finite resources. They would be the future leaders and maintainers of Vault 42.
And the scheme worked. The steady populace of almost 650 could be sustained with careful hydro-agriculture and diligent repair to vault systems. Only another two decades on, after a potentially lethal corruption, and the subsequent deletion, of the AppleSoft Think Machine (tm) automated protocols, did the Overseers finally send out another party to the surface to see whether the Garden of Eden Creation Kit (tm) had done its work.
The radiation level had been lowered by the G.E.C.K, both within and outside the cave, but it had overwhelmed the vegetation, turning it into a gnarled and ropy forest of half-death. Worse, some of those burnt plants had developed animal traits, mutated by the burning atmosphere, and those toothy maws fed on the large and unhealthy looking rats that had survived and come to infest the new irradiated garden. The Bomb had won out over The Miracle.
Even medicated up to the maximum safe prevention dosage the four explorers all suffered from the radiation. Though they survived, they stood as proof that the surface was now a new incarnation of Hell. Only the knowledge that it could still support some form of twisted life gave them hope that the land might once again be colonised, many years from then.
Reading all those events in that unlabeled diary, the first inhabitants of Vault 42 lived such challenging and exciting lives. The drama and the intrigue lived on in those pages. In comparison her own generation, the baby boom of '43, seemed to live such a plain life. She was schooled in all manner of practical and theoretical subjects, and had been trained in her vocational field, inter-level maintenance, since she was of working age. When she could gather her friends they joined in with the regular shifts to the vault cinema to vote for an old slice of twenty second century Americana that they had not already seen thirty times before, or if alone she escaped from the repetitive films to the gymnasium to dance and climb and tumble around until she wore herself out.
And the yearly vault festival. While birthdays and Christmas were always occasions for communal celebration, it was the Festival that got the entire vault together. A full two-day party in commemoration of one simple realisation two generations before: Vault 42 was not a necessity to be endured. It was their home.
Abigail enjoyed the festival more than most, she would have said. With her thin physique and passion for athletics she was a decent candidate to be a vent technician, but she was already a superb stage performer. She had enjoyed her own festival spot on the giant tenth floor stage since the age of ten, either performing her acrobatics alone or with the other dancers in the vault. Now, at nineteen years old, she would spend months beforehand devising new and interesting routines for that short hour when she could entertain everyone that she knew in the entire world.
"Abby!" The utilitarian dormitory door slid upwards into the ceiling and her mother marched in, red faced. "Abby, have you turned your PipBoy off, or have you just gone deaf? Marcus has been beeping you for twenty minutes! Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is for him to have to call me in order to get you to work twenty minutes late?!"
Abigail looked over to see a shorter, sturdier version of herself. It was deeply worrying how much she had grown to look like her mother. At least Abigail had her dancer's plait, a strong and well cared for braid falling down past her waist and ending tied around a small, thick gold hoop, instead of the deeply unfashionable bob her mother wore. "I.. uh, I guess I forgot to turn it back on?"
She quickly pressed the power button on her wrist mounted data device, and the comic-book style Vault Boy character appeared with a grin and a thumbs up on the small, high definition green-screen before fading to show the time and the list of chores she had entered into it.
The first of which, her technical training, she was well overdue for. While she could crawl and slide through even the most awkward of the vault's access vents all day (and had done in her earlier years, much to the consternation of the technicians at the time) she found the mechanical side of the vocation far harder going. And she had less than a year - until her twentieth birthday - before she began working on it alone whether she was ready or not.
"Sorry Mom!" she sprang out of her bunk and down to the floor, sending her sheets and her long plait flying behind her. "I'll tidy it when I get back! I -really- didn't realise the time! And I know I shouldn't jump from the top bunk!"
She scooted through the door and past her identically clad mother before the older woman could put another word in. "No," the older woman muttered to herself as she stepped inside the bunk-room, "we both know who is going to be cleaning up after you."
She picked up the sheet that had floated to the floor. "And if you give me the 'I'm no good with mornings' excuse again you can fend for yourself tonight - from your own pocket - while your father and I are at the cinema. Honestly, the first time in weeks we can both book seats for a film without worrying about the vote, and you show us up like this."
Their underground city died that day.
The demise of Vault 42 was broadcast first to the technical control team as a single red warning light and a thin, reedy buzzer. Somehow, without their control, the surface door was open, and it wouldn't close. After a moment's confusion they sounded the alarm throughout the vault, and locked down the surface elevator.
Nothing human could have breached that door, and it was nothing human that had sought refuge in their cave, and found the entrance to their home.
Deep in the bowels of the access vent system, Abigail and her tutor Marcus both looked up at the sound of the emergency siren, and cracked their heads together in the confined space.
"Oww!" Abigail exclaimed, rubbing her aching forehead. "What was that? We aren't scheduled for a drill today!"
Marcus had come to the same conclusion the moment their heads had met, and he rubbed the back of his own as his throat went dry. "Then it's not a drill. Come on Abby, we have to get out of the pipe. Move."
Without another word Abigail did as she was told, and set her mind on the vent above her, crawling up the ladder and out as fast as she could to give Marcus room to do the same. Whatever was happening, she was the one who was in the way, and as one of the head technicians Marcus had work to do. They came out in the level four restrooms, and as soon as Marcus appeared from the hatch he had his hands at the PipBoy on his wrist. "Marcus here, what's happening guys? We've got a life support failure?"
"I wish!" came the grainy voice through the PipBoy speaker. "Heads up for the public announcement, and do what you're told Marcus. You too Abigail."
So, it wasn't a mechanical or computer failure. For a brief moment Abigail found that reassuring, until her wits caught up with her and she realised what it meant: it wasn't something that Marcus or any of the maintenance or repair staff could fix. This had never happened before. Not even to her grandmother.
The siren cut out, but the red warning lights continued to spin as the vault-wide speaker system crackled to life. "Attention Vault 42." It was the voice of Overseer Jameson. "This is an emergency situation. The surface door has been breached. According to the vault sensors, there are only four beings responsible, and they are at this moment climbing their way down the elevator shaft. They are not human, and are emitting notable levels of radiation, but they would have to be at least partially sentient to have destroyed the vault door, probably with large quantities of high explosives. We do not know how much they might have left, or how they may be armed, if at all. All physical security personnel arm yourselves for severe close action and take up your positions. However, you are to attempt to make verbal contact with the intruders one time, and one time only. If they do not reciprocate, exterminate them. We don't know what they may be, so take no risks.
"All children and educational personnel, take refuge in the level ten auditorium. Secondary security and full team technical personnel, arms yourselves as per civil defence procedures and prepare to hold level ten. Everyone else, take refuge in the standard emergency areas, and be prepared to barricade them. The Overseers will meet you there. Be calm people, and think clearly. This is just a precautionary measure, but be prepared."
Abigail looked to her tutor for guidance. "Am I full team technical?"
"No, you are -not-, Jinx." He ignored her scowl at the unfortunate nickname, and flashed her a smile. "You still can't re-wire anything without me holding your hand. I'm amazed the Overseers let you anywhere near the computerised areas. If we gave you a weapon it'd probably blow up in your face."
"It's not my fault!" Abigail retorted reflexively, swallowing hard with worry for her older work-mates. Several of them would be taking up arms on the lowest level, both from the limited armoury and with improvised weapons from their line of work. And Marcus was making fun of her? "I -do- try and I'm -not- incompetent! It's not my fault if God hates me!"
"Of course he does, you never go to chapel," Marcus quipped, trying to ease her obviously frayed nerves. "And no, I'm not saying it because your bad luck is infectious. No-one even cares about a few unfortunate coincidences besides you – well, you and Alfy Parker, but he should have been more careful. This is about the rules Abby. Get to your emergency area and keep their spirits up there, because they'll need it."
Abigail managed a smile. She had needed the reassurance, so she could forgive him bringing up those past embarrassments. He was a decent guy when it came down to it. She turned to go.
"Abby," he called after her, "stay alert. You know this isn't 'just a precaution', right?"
Abby nodded from the doorway. She knew she wasn't the quickest girl off the mark unless it wasn't a euphemism, but after six years studying under him she had learned a few of Marcus' realistic, analytical sensibilities. "Yeah. If they just wanted to meet us, why wouldn't they use the control panel out there and ask to come down, right?"
"Good girl. Go. And tuck that pigtail in before you catch it in a door!"
By the time Abigail reached the central corridor on level 4 it was already deserted. Each level was, essentially, its own little town, with its own necessities, such as schoolrooms, technical station and kitchen. The emergency areas had been re-designated before she had been born, so that each Overseer would take control of one kitchen per level, from level four to level nine. The tables had been unbolted from the floor, so that if needed they could be tipped over to give cover. That left the armed security team with the first three floors if the surface elevator and the main hallway between that and the main vault elevators could not be held. For a society that never expected to even hear from the surface again it was a thoroughly planned compromise of the original vault-invasion defence plans.
Abigail assumed, with three floors and ten fully armed, armoured and trained security people, that it gave her enough time to get to her sixth level evacuation point the fastest way: the vault's own elevators. They would only get locked down in the event that the first line of defence was compromised, and even the access vents were easier to use (and for Abigail, quicker) than the emergency stairways between the levels.
Neither she nor the main security team expected the intruders to rip through their fully equipped greeting party like a fist through tissue paper. The first intruder had not even given the team leader time to finish his one attempt at diplomacy before it levelled its minigun at him, wielding the huge weapon in only one hand, and tore both him and his backup man to shreds.
The team lasted only twenty seconds once the firefight broke out in full, so when Abigail called first the left elevator and then the right, they were already coming down - from the first floor - and stopping alternately at each one.
"No," she whispered to herself. Both of them should have been on the tenth level still. "They couldn't be..."
The right hand elevator stopped on level three, and when the left came down to meet her she found herself staring up into it. Behind the doors stood the biggest creature Abigail had ever seen. It was almost a man, but stood hunched over at ten feet tall and was as wide as the full span of Abigail's arms, made of nothing but muscle and thick, unhealthy green-brown skin. Huge crooked teeth protruded from blackened gums as it heaved and panted in the confined space. Each elevator had a capacity of twenty men, but two of those things would have filled it. Maybe three if they all breathed in. It wore patches of scrap armour made of metal sheet, bolted to thick straps of leather to hold it together, but even so from the look of it the creature had taken three full shells of buckshot across its areas of unprotected skin, and Abigail could only guess at how many pistol bullets had hit their vast target.
"Damned humans..." it wheezed in a low, guttural voice as it looked down with beady but apathetic eyes at Abigail, who stood petrified in front of the door.
It was then that she registered the wide, cylindrical, six-barrelled gun that the blasted hulk held in its right hand, and the bent metal pipe that hung from the fingers of its left. Only then did the fight or flight response fill her brain, and she ran before the thing could even raise the gun to fire at her.
Even though she was gone the creature didn't bother stopping, and a loud whine started up before a hail of lead tore down the level's main corridor. The weapon lit up the hallway so brightly that even though Abigail was fleeing, its repeating flash almost blinded her. The gentle lights of the vault were nothing compared to that long, sharp yellow-white light. In the back of her mind Abigail thanked her terrible, infectious luck for once, because the weapon stopped firing suddenly, jamming with a crack of metal meeting metal, and the hulk-creature swore with another tired wheeze. She also thanked whatever impulse it was that had made her run to the left and towards the technician's room rather than back down the main hall, because if she had she would already have been smeared across the walls.
But most of what filled her mind was panic. Those things were inside Vault 42, and they had killed the best of their security teams so quickly. Even barricaded in the kitchens, how could any of the evacuation areas hold up against that kind of monster?!
Behind her the creature threw his gun out of the elevator, and stepped out just in time for the other elevator to reach that floor. Abigail almost screamed as she heard another of those impossibly deep voices.
"There is no-one up there," it grunted, far more forcefully that the monster Abigail had seen. "And I heard your gun. Have you found them, Gazor?"
The monster Gazor huffed and spat out a mouthful of deep red blood. "A girl. She ran off. Why did you shoot them? We could have bargained for their lives, and now I am full of bullets, and Luthar is dead from them. And I see nothing but shadows in these tiny night-time lights."
"This is -our- vault now," the strong, angry monster roared back. "Everythin' is ours! They don' have to give it. We can take it!" He levelled his own huge gun at Gazor. "Go down, find them, and kill them all! I'll find this girl, and everyone else hidin' here. And maybe you will see better down there," it sneered.
The Gazor creature just stared at the other monster for a moment, before picking up its gun and getting back into the elevator. From the doorway to the technician's room Abigail began to shake in panic. Now it was the more insane of the two monsters that was on her level. And its gun still worked.
Abigail really had the worst luck in the world, and only when it mattered. The second this new creature started towards her she retreated into the room properly, locking the door the moment it slid back to the floor. There was now a barrier between her and the creature, but the clean swish of the door had also let it know exactly were she was.
She retreated to the ventilation shaft just in time. The leather brown monster-man smacked against the door a few times, and when the door did not rise for it, it unloaded its belt of ammunition into metal. It took a moment, and the peppering of dents that finally appeared let Abigail know that the door wouldn't hold. When the creature's weapon had spent its load a single kick from its huge booted foot tore open the brutalised steel like it had been tin foil.
"I see you, little human girl!"
Abigail was down the vent like a ferret in its run, already to the bottom and under the floor before the monster had even reached the hatch. She took a moment to catch her breath. There was no way that hulking brute would be able to fit into the vent system, and she hoped it was too stupidly hostile to realise where the pipe had taken her.
The monster just jeered at her, reloaded his gun, and shoved it down the pipe before firing off another blast of bullets that turned the vent wall, floor and access ladder into Swiss cheese. Even though she was a good two feet away from the tearing metal she still scrambled back in fright, silently begging not to be hit.
Then, just as shockingly, the terrible sound cut out, and the whirr of the rotating gun barrels slowed to a stop. "Heh heh, stupid humans can't run away." It almost sounded like an evil, bass singsong of a threat. Then she heard something clatter down the shredded vent. A small, egg shaped something, that a second later spouted out two great gouts of smoke. The creature was trying to smoke her out, or choke her to death, and this was exactly the reason that the pipes had to be evacuated in any kind of emergency. That single grenade could flood out a full quarter of the vault's vent access. She scrambled forward and kicked it further down the pipe, to the next drop that lead to the lighting and air recycling systems between the floors. That would give her some time to escape the smoke, she hoped, and it would not filter through to any of the evacuated groups because the air recycling was a closed system.
What smoke she had breathed burned her throat though, and made her eyes water and her head swim. Above her she heard the hulking mutant-man swear. "Fuck it! Where's the fire and bang!? Stupid grenades all look alike." He huffed and spat down the shaft before slamming the hatch closed to keep the smoke inside. "You can choke there, stupid human girl!"
And, Abigail realised, she would. She was among the fastest through those pipes, but she had been hyperventilating in panic – she still was, and she couldn't stop it! – and she had breathed too much of the thin smoke already. The stupid creature hadn't realised it, but since she had kicked the grenade down between levels this smoke would be far more effective than any belated explosion. It was not just a smokescreen she realised as her vision began to blur from more than just the tears in her eyes, it was some kind of nerve gas as well.
She reached the far side of level four's under-floor crawlspace and some relative safety from the worst of the smoke before, coughing and sobbing as her panic gave way to bleary-minded and terrified hysteria, she thankfully passed out.
The first thing to scare her when she woke was the darkness. Even after spending her entire life living and working under the meagre shine of 40 watts – a bedside lamplight by her grandmother's standards – waking in total darkness brought her aching body and foggy mind back to attention with a jolt. She never woke before the lights came back on in the early hours of the morning. She just couldn't handle early starts. And even on those rare occasions that she had been dragged from her bed, there were the tiny guidelights by the doors and along the edges of the corridors, which rarely ever blew and so could be left on for safety's sake without worrying for their conservation.
But the pitch blackness, and then the cold, hard metal beneath her, and then the silence; the whole terrible memory came flooding back to her. Those huge green monsters had broken into Vault 42, her only vault, with weapons that she had only even seen in the cinema.
The brown monster's deep, barking words came back to her.
"Go down, find them, and kill them all."
Worried adrenaline flooded her brain again. How long had she been asleep? Were those creatures still there? Could the second security team or the emergency barricades have actually fought off those hulking giants?
Was there anyone left alive?
And in contrast to all her fears, as she got to her hands and knees and began to crawl to the nearest pipe hatch, she thanked God that she was still alive. Had that grenade been an explosive, would it have given her time to kick it away? Had the less crazy monster not stood wounded and staring at her in the dim light for so long, would she have had time to run before his first brief hail of gunfire had torn her apart? Had that smoke been truly toxic, or a lethal nerve gas, would she have asphyxiated in her vent pipes and never woken at all?
Above her fear for everyone she knew and everyone she cared about, she was relieved that she had survived. Even though she did not know whether they had managed the same. Putting her hand to the access ladder back up to level four, she paused just long enough to be sick across the vent floor because of it.
She wiped her mouth as she emerged into the first aid bay on level four, and forcibly ignored those selfish thoughts. She had to be worried about her friends now, and her family. She made straight for the kitchen, hoping against hope that the green-brown monster had not been able to make good on its threat.
The second the door slid upwards, it was clear that it had. Even though her stomach had emptied and her mouth still tasted of bile, her cry of horror was cut short as she retched up what little had remained inside her. The long steel tables had been dented beyond recognition, and even tossed about the room in a way that would have taken five or six men to re-arrange.
And the blood. It wasn't a kitchen any more, but an abattoir. Abigail had been right. Even fifty men and women could not defend themselves with a single gun and some kitchen knives against that creature and its evil weapons.
The tears began to flow freely down her face as she wiped her mouth on her blue jumpsuit sleeve again. "Gillian? 'Trish? Overseer Jahera? Someone answer me!!"
Only the single dull echo from the huge room replied, and Abigail fled from the bloody spectacle, and the sound of her own harrowed voice. She ran back to the main hall, trying desperately not to look at the bullet holes and the large, bloody boot prints that she followed to the elevators.
She tried to dry her eyes as she waited for it to arrive. She needed to steady herself, and not faint as she got inside. She had to be strong. Her parents were on level six, and even though she knew what she would see, she still had to see it for herself. She had to hope that they had somehow survived.
She burst into tears again when the elevator began to play its light jazz rendition of the old classic 'The Girl from Ipanema'. She screamed at the machine to turn it off and the elevator did so, the calm synthesised female voice pleased as ever to do as it was asked. That only made Abigail cry harder.
By the time the elevator reached level six her legs had lost their urgency to get her to this level's kitchen. She plodded down the main corridor as though walking to her own execution. The bloody boot-prints tracing up and down the corridor killed what little hope had remained in her. In the end she did not even open the main kitchen door. She just activated the room's communicator by the door's controls.
"Is anyone in there? Please, anyone..."
She waited for two minutes in silence.
Then she realised she had to see it. Someone might have been injured, but not killed, and unable to get to the microphone, but she regretted it the moment the door slid up. Blood coated everything. No one coughed or twitched or called for help amidst the gory mess. One of the monsters' huge miniguns lay discarded against one of the tables, either broken for good or with no more ammunition to fuel it, but it had not needed it. The monster must have used another weapon to finish them off. Something blunt and heavy, but Abigail could not bring herself to look any further, or guess what it might have been.
They were dead; that was all that mattered. It would be the same on every level. Any other survivors would have hidden away from the emergency evacuation areas, like she had done.
But the second security force, and the armed technical team, might have made a last stand down on level ten. It was another last hope to keep her searching for survivors, and she walked slowly back to the elevator. She cried still, and harder than ever, but her cheeks could get no wetter, and her sorrow and grief was giving way to dull numbness. The scale of it was too much to be sorry over. It was now an event outside her comprehension. The corpses strewn about the kitchen were no longer people she could recognise. They couldn't be if she was to keep going and remain sane, so that part of her mind was simply shutting down. She was an outsider in a war zone.
Though she had never lived anywhere else, Vault 42 didn't seem like home any more. That was what scared her now, more than anything else. Even more than the monsters.
When the elevator doors opened again it was a more detached eye that viewed the carnage in the hallway. She retched again at the smell of the blood that pooled across the floors and dripped from the walls, but it was more a physical response than anything else. She was in shock.
The guns, welding lasers and other tools that the defenders still held had obviously not been enough. She saw Marcus still lying in his point position by the data archive doorway a few meters in. He was more intact than some, but still the line of bullets up his chest must have been what killed him. It would have been quick, and in her numbed haze she felt gently thankful for that. Others had not fared so well, being bludgeoned or crushed to death, and several had been set alight and stank of burnt meat.
She knelt down next to Marcus' slumped body and pulled it from the wall, into a tender hug. She didn't notice how it bled into her jumpsuit. "Thank you for trying, Marcus. I'll miss you."
He had been a good and dear friend to her, she thought as she lay him down on the floor. In her six years of training as a maintenance technician, slow and difficult training, he had been one of the few members of the technical staff she had become real friends with. When they were all so busy and so consumed by their work, it was hardly surprising, but she wished she had made more effort to get to know them.
So they had not managed to hold out. It wasn't their fault. She felt sorry for the teachers and children that would be lying dead in the vast amphitheatre at the end of the main hall, but she could not bring herself to go down there. She would not have been able to take any more.
Then, as she trudged slowly towards the main AppleSoft Think Machine (tm) control room, she heard a deep voice. Two of them.
The monsters were still there.
"Whut take Boss so long? We wait for hour now."
From what little Abigail saw before she pulled back from the branching corridor, the monster that spoke was larger than the other two she had seen, and greener. Fully and completely green, with several of its crooked teeth missing, and a huge jowl and neck that bristled with odd wiry hairs. And it could not talk even half as well as the others, but held a weapon that looked much more delicate that the miniguns that the other two had wielded – like an oversized, carefully plumbed propane burner.
"We are not waiting," Gazor, the brutalised one, replied, sounding so much more intelligent even though he was obviously in a great deal of pain. He looked even bloodier than when Abigail had seen him in the elevator. "'Boss' is not coming. He wasted his ammo, and now he is dead. He did not think little human knives could cut him. He was wrong."
"Oh," the slow one replied. "Good for t'em. Boss was stupid as little humans. Not t'ink ahead. Whut good is vault wit' too small lights, and all decent t'ings used up? Was waste of time. Good to get out of stinging air t'ough. Never t'ought radiation ever be strong to sting like t'at."
The monster Gazor only nodded in reply, and spat out some more blood that had filled his mouth. "You're right. This was all pointless."
"Hey, you not look so good. You take meds now. Maybe they fix holes in you some?"
"... I doubt it."
Abigail doubted it too. The monster bled from so many holes, and whenever he had spoken she'd heard the blood gurgling within his lungs. It sounded pretty hideous, just what the bastard deserved, and from his reply Gazor knew it wasn't good for him.
Then Abigail heard the whirr of the minigun's six barrels winding up to speed. The conversation had brought her back to the real world again, and she began to panic. Had they found her?
Then a few shots were fired, and Abigail jumped to find herself still alive, and still safe behind the corner of the main hall.
"You not suppose to blow own brains out all over Kazal!!" the idiot monster raged a moment later. "Gazor stupid! Gazor should have taken meds. Now more meds for Kazal. Has less holes to heal too. Now Kazal has vault all to self. Even if is dark and used up vault."
Somehow, as the Kazal monster had talked to himself, Abigail had found her fear and nausea turning to rage. This was her vault. This was Vault 42! And they called it useless!? They broke in and took away everything that she had ever cared about, and then decided it was all a waste of time!?
She walked away from the retarded creature with a purpose. The main security force had taken most of the armament, but the pointmen had left their sidearms for the secondary team and the few decent marksmen in the kitchens to arm themselves with. The main team's backup had even left a couple of shotguns for the secondary team to use, and just kept their pistols to cover their teammates with from behind. The shotguns were far more powerful, but too imprecise to be used properly from the rear line.
In her dazed and dream-like state Abigail had managed to dry her eyes, but her tears flowed once more the moment she laid her eyes on Marcus and his teammates again. She couldn't look at them. Not broken and chewed up by the bullets like that. She just knelt down next to her tutor and friend, and eased the shotgun from his cool fingers. "I'm sorry," she whispered with a sob.
And then she was gone, gun in hand. She had no idea how to use it, or even if it was still loaded. Could Marcus have used all, what, five or six shells, before he had been murdered? She could only guess that his death had come quickly, and the gun was still ready to use. And she was going to use it. She would make that mountainous green ape pay for destroying her precious underground world.
She was blinded with rage, but she still had the presence of mind to stop when she came to the corridor. That monster could tear her in half bare handed, and it had the fire-weapon. The seemingly small crowbar it had played with in its other hand was probably less of a danger than the creature's fist itself.
But it was no longer facing her. Instead it had turned to rummage in the sack beside it. All Abigail needed to do was move quickly and stay silent. Her blood thumped through her head like a jackhammer in fear and vengeful anticipation, but she barely made a sound as she padded swiftly and unnoticed up to the great green thing, and pressed the barrel of the gun into the back of its bald head.
She did not give it time to turn around, and pulled the trigger the second it had made that questioning sound. The bright flash of the gun blinded her, but worse the weapon slammed back into her with such force that it swung her around and flew from her hands. The trigger guard caught her finger painfully, but the pain that flooded her shoulder and chest overwhelmed that. She screamed, but both in pain and triumph. The creature in front of her bobbed where it sat, a gaping red crater in the back if its skull. Whatever brains had been inside had turned to mush, the shot embedding itself in the front of the monster's thick skull.
Abigail nursed her shoulder as the thing slumped over. The heavy ache glowed through the right side of her chest. She didn't think it was broken, but she had done some sort of damage to herself, and bruised God knew what. And she laughed as she realised the monster's blood was dripping in small speckled rivulets down her face. She laughed so hard she began to cry.
Her pointless revenge had been carried out, and she just had to let out her frustration and grief before she died from it. With a final fit of futile energy she grabbed the crowbar from the creature's dead fingers and smacked it against the monster's tough hide, but that only made her cry harder, and seemingly did nothing to the thing's skin.
After a moment the bent tool fell from her fingers and Abigail tried to organise herself. The main computer could still help her, so strung out and at her wits' end she walked down the corridor to the central room, trying to rub the blood from her face and chest as she went.
She found the AppleSoft Think Machine (tm) still working, and activated its own voice command system. "Perform a vault-wide census scan please."
The calm voice of the computer, male this time, replied. "Emergency user recognition system bypass is active. Please state your name and census designation."
Whoever it was that had activated the emergency access protocols, Abigail thanked them. "Abigail Iseley, designation..." she paused, willing herself not to cry again. If she did the computer might mistake what she said. "... designation 'Jinx'."
She never had found out who had altered her last full census submission, four years ago. She would have been able to change her identity designation back in only another five months, when the next full scale census was made in the new year. The normal yearly census and occasional birth, death and marriage submissions were always much smaller affairs, but a full census paper could take days to complete, it was so comprehensive. Right down to their sleeping patterns and working relationships.
"Vault wide census scan initiated. Scanning. Please wait, this could take several minutes..."
Twenty seven seconds later it spoke the results. "Possible census total, seven personnel."
Abigail shuddered. Only seven people, out of over six hundred, on the most inaccurate scan. "Please remove all results based on open and currently accessed utilities." Then she though again. "No, cancel that. Please report which areas registered defined life signs, including all access vents and non-civilian areas."
"Please wai-One area. Level ten, room zero one. Main AppleSoft Think Machine – trademark of AppleSoft corporation and Vault-Tec Industries – control room. Possible occupants, two."
Abigail reached for a nearby chair before her legs gave way beneath her. Possible occupants... Even after telling it that she wanted a record of life signs and nothing else it still told her that someone else was accessing one of the machine's own boxy main terminals. One of the Overseers had logged on, no doubt, before he had left for his or her doomed evacuation area. Abigail had not known it was possible to cry so much in so short a time, but she did regardless. She was the only one left. No one else in the vents, or locked in a restroom somewhere. The computer's sensors could be temperamental and its reports unnecessarily vague, but never inaccurate enough to miss a life sign reading from a whole room or maintenance area.
So, that was it, she thought. The silence was deafening. What was she supposed to do now? Vault 42 was... dead. She couldn't run the place alone, and it was full of her friends and family. She couldn't go into the kitchens again. She didn't know if she even had the strength to make it past Marcus' body again, and all that blood. She couldn't clean that. Not all of it. All of -them-.
She rubbed the cuff of her jumpsuit against the drying smear of red on her cheek again, not realising it would not get any cleaner. The sleeve was just as stained as her skin was.
Eventually, washed, clothed and safely isolated in the clean second and third levels, she realised there was nothing else to do. She would end up starving to death in her own vault. The kitchens on those two levels were clean, but she could barely set foot into one without seeing the blood and the bodies in her mind. And what food there was had been stored for mass preparation, not for one girl trying to feed herself.
She lived on snack food for a few days but she soon found herself weak and getting sick from the lack of nutrition, and her few attempts at cooking in the giant kitchens had been disastrous, and even dangerous. She should have trained as a chef, not a technician. She might even have been good at it, if she had just learned where to start. None of the stores had cooking instructions, and when she foraged into the hydro-farms on level three she could only watch the plants slowly dying from lack of care.
In Vault 42, it now seemed, everyone had their part to play to keep them all going, and every part had been needed. After all, their families had lived there for almost a hundred years in a home designed to support only a single generation for little longer than a decade. She had lived a much more vulnerable life than she had ever realised.
Either she wasted away in Vault 42, or she would have to do what her grandmother had done all those years ago. She would have to leave home. A home whose corpse would soon begin to fester, whose edible crops would wither, and whose ghosts of friends and family would surely drive her insane as she cried herself to sleep each night in someone else's empty bed. If she wanted to try and live on, no matter how slim the chance was on the surface, she had to leave.
Abigail tried to be rational about her decision. She braved the walk down to level five, and to the main hospital, to stock up on medications, and to collect every anti-Radiation drug she could find. Many of them had been used up but after looking through the hospital records she found an almost full bottle of Rad-X pills, and enough RadAway drips for ten people in critical condition. She resisted the urge to throw the hatefully branded medicines across the hospital floor, and shoved them into the pack that she had taken from storage. No matter how many dark stories she had grown up with, and how many times she had read grandmother's feelings of betrayal over those names, those were the drugs that might allow her to survive on the outside. Maybe even long enough to find other human survivors.
As she packed she knew she was lying to herself. She was just delaying the inevitable. It would be so much easier, she knew, just to take one of the pistols that lay with her peoples' bodies, find her family in that gory mess one level down, and end it all beside them.
But in Vault 42, they had been raised to believe otherwise. Ever since the founding of the vault as its own state, it had always been about survival. They would survive the betrayal of the outside world because they had to. They would survive against all the odds, and keep their vault running, because they -deserved- to survive. Coming to the vault could never be allowed to become a waste of all the trials and the work that had led them to that point.
So Abigail had to try and survive. She had to be the sole heir to everyone's efforts, because if she died, it would all have been for nothing, and the first Overseer would have been proven right when he took his life.
And Abigail was still afraid to die. She was only nineteen years old. She had been legally capable since the age of sixteen, able to begin her vocation, but was still not a full adult in the eyes of the vault, or else she would not still have been tutored for those years in between.
She packed lightly, leaving most of her own possessions in her locker, which still sat at the foot of her old bunk. Instead she read up on what she could and should take – rope, a good knife, a supply of good water and long life foods – everything she could think of and still be able to carry without it slowing her down. That was much harder than she thought. For all her acrobatic training she found her physical strength wanting. She could lift herself up by one hand, but she was thin girl, and not overly tall with it. Then again, while she was not muscular her body was lean and well trained. What strength she did have would not abandon her after the first few hours of carrying her pack. She could practice the parallel bars for hours on end, after all. That had to be worth a little confidence in her staying power, as long as she could lift the thing.
In the end, the only extraneous items she took were books. She had to learn how to survive, and how to be of use as more than just an acrobat. She could not keep the vault running alone no matter how much she studied - the maintenance team alone was 37 people, not including herself, and they rarely found themselves with time to spare on their shifts – but if there were people out there she would have to be able to offer them something. Ever since she had accidentally shorted out a part of the air recycling unit she had been supposed to repair her faith in her hard earned technical skills had plummeted. That was why she had needed Marcus to keep tutoring her, and why she knew she couldn't rely on those skills now.
And she took medicines. Those would surely be highly valued on the radioactive surface. Stimpaks – one-use anaesthetic, antiseptic and clotting agent shots, which were hailed as a milestone in common medicine just before the war - would help her tide over any injury. After grabbing those she carefully selected a dozen other specific medicines, as well as making up what she thought would be a good first aid kit. Even though she knew little first aid beyond the basics.
In the last of the space in her backpack, along with the bulky, improvised medical kit, she took what little technology she thought might be of use. A Geiger counter, with wireless link to her PipBoy, and a pistol. She took a few minutes to figure out how the Geiger counter worked, because finding her way out of the worst of the radiation above ground might be the difference between life and death up there.
The pistol she didn't bother puzzling with. Despite what she had said to Marcus back then, she didn't trust herself not to blow her own fingers off either, but maybe it could be a good deterrent. After years with a nickname like Jinx, she doubted anyone would have blamed her for thinking that way. She marvelled at herself really. She had developed a real complex about it, and yet she was preparing as if she actually expected to find anyone up there that would take her in. As if she expected to survive for more than a few hours on that radioactive crust.
So, with her two bags packed and her stomach in knots, she set off to die on the surface. She tried not to look at the corpses that still lay at the entrance to the surface elevator. It was a long walk to it from the two vault elevators at the other end of the brownly bloody hallway. Amidst the week old slaughter a yellow-green giant, wearing nothing but leather rags, lay face down. Unlike the bodies around it, the creature had yet to begin decomposing.
After everything she had lived through, and a week of haunted nights alone with her nightmares of blood and bullets, Abigail managed to keep her meagre lunch down. She kicked the body as she went past. "Bastards!"
"Computer," she said by the blood covered door, "please activate the surface elevator."
Abigail had made sure to disengage the lockdown, but keep her emergency command access active, and the door slid upwards as she had asked. The journey upwards was longer than she expected, but then she supposed her home had been buried beneath three million tons of earth. It gave her time to read the directions on the bottle of Rad-X pills.
'Rad-X – For the prevention of irritation, poisoning, and chronic genome mutation from exposure to weapons grade radioactive materials and their after-effects. Not for use against lower grade, naturally occurring or medical sources of radiation.
'Directions: For average expected levels of nuclear fallout, take two tablets with water ten minutes before exposure to lessen or eliminate all negative effects. For high levels of risk, or chemically mixed nuclear agents, a dose of three or four pills is recommended. For continued protection during extended exposure, repeat the dosage every twelve hours, until no longer at risk. Do not use continually for more than ten days, as dosage beyond that time will become harmful.
'Warning: Not to be given to children under the age of 16, or women during pregnancy or while nursing.
Abigail gave a derisive laugh. As if the first warning hadn't been important, she thought, before she continued reading.
'Important Warning: Exceeding dosage or duration can cause epidermal, oral, intestinal, urethral, rectal and stomach irritability, infertility, temporary or permanent blindness, liver and kidney failure, muscular spasms and paralysis (including heart failure), and temporary or permanent mental impairment. Please use responsibly.
'Rad-X was provided for your safety by ChemoCorp, a radio-chemical and pharmaceutical subsidiary of Vault-Tec Industries.'
"Yeah," she said to the bottle, pouring the pills into her hand, "fuck you too, Vault-Tec!" It didn't matter that Vault-Tec had been behind the construction of every vault in the US, and prepared everything within them. Right then, as far as she was concerned, the only thing Vault-Tec had given her that was worth its advertising was the PipBoy strapped to her wrist, currently displaying the readout of her Geiger counter and her nervous pulse on two separate halves of the tiny green screen. And that wasn't even their own product.
As far as the pills were concerned it was safe to say that the dose on the bottle was worse than useless. The second team who had gone to the surface in her grandmothers diary had been out only half an hour, after taking the maximum dosage, and they still suffered through months of treatment for radiation poisoning, and several disabilities for the rest of their lives after that. After reading the plastic bottle she wasn't convinced that the Rad-X hadn't -caused- some of those disabilities, but what choice did she have?
The records from the doctors that had treated those men said that to last the proper duration of the dose, under the levels of radiation those men had been subjected to, she would have to take at least seven pills at a time, and she would still suffer some compounding radiation poisoning the longer she stayed out. Maybe some of the radiation had corroded away in the last sixty years, but she could not bank on that.
The elevator lights flickered and it lurched suddenly, causing a couple of the pills to fall from her nervous grasp. The capsules were large and fat, red on one side and white the other, with that wretched Rad-X logo in tiny print on each side in the opposite side's colour. She popped two in her mouth, all she could swallow at once, and gulped them down with a little water from one of her flat canteens. Then another two, and another two, and another two.
Feeling ill after forcing them down her throat, Abigail finished the elevator ride with double the safe maximum dosage slowly finding its way through her stomach walls and into her body. She purposely sat in the elevator until the ten minutes were up, just to make sure she was doing -something- properly with the drugs, before she left for the vault door.
Even in the abandoned upper control room, Abigail could feel a prickle in the air. Like the tanning machines that no-one had ever really used down in level eight's recreation hall. So that was what radiation felt like? It wasn't even as hot as the tan-beds - hardly anything at all when she actually thought about it. Maybe, miracle of miracles, the medication was working?
Though she had never seen it, she recognised the vault door immediately as she walked down the cylindrical hall towards the outside world. The giant steel cog, easily twenty feet across, could be nothing else. It lay face down on the cavern floor, one side covered in scorch marks that had actually torn one of the immense teeth clean off, and buckled the track just enough for those muscle-bound monsters to tear the door from it. Even so, and even as strong as those creatures had been, it must have taken all four of them do manage it. It just looked so immensely sturdy, even lying wrecked there. Surely with a man around every inch of the circumference, they would not have been able to lift it from the floor.
Then, as Abigail stepped out into the cavern, the wave of radiation hit her. She knew the heat of it even before feeling the sun on her skin. It was -hot-. In her blue and yellow-stitched jumpsuit she had walked into a dry sauna that sucked the air from her lungs. She looked at her PipBoy Geiger counter reading, and though the number made no sense to her, the needle pointer image was not even hovering at the high end of the scale. It had stuck itself fast there. And even after the G.E.C.K. had tried to clean up the air.
She forced herself to stagger forward into a walk, towards the ropy vines that lined the cave floor, just to stop herself falling over. That was it, she realised as she walked through the remnants of the Garden of Eden Creation Kit (tm)'s efforts. She was going to die.
The wiry vegetation had been beaten back, by the giant monsters no doubt, and as she walked she saw a white lump glowing by the wall, with more glowing material lining the rocks above. What kind of fallout had been scattered here? And as she passed she realised that it was not metal or glowing moss, or those damnable burnt roots that criss-crossed back and forth. It was a body. A body that glowed as brightly as the light bulbs within the vault. White skin and salmon pink flesh had fallen from its body, and its dry, spilt blood glowed on the walls. And it was person shaped. Dead and decayed, but human, and not one of the giant monstrosities that had murdered her friends and family.
There were still people out there. The exploration teams had never said anything about glowing bodies when they had ventured outside, and that body had worn rags of cloth and leather, not the remnants of a vault jump suit. There were people out there, but what had the radiation outside Vault 42 turned their dead bodies into?
There were more glowing corpses at the other side of the cave, but Abigail did not care to see them. If she was to live she had to move, and keep moving, and pray that the radiation would not kill her like it had those poor souls before she found someone. Anyone would do. Anyone that could help her.
So she walked towards the bright light that was the mouth of the cave. A light so bright that she could not even see what the outside world looked like. A brightness that consumed her as she experienced the sun for the very first time.
And it hurt her gentle blue eyes. It hurt them so much that she closed them again, and walked viewing the sun through the glaring pink shield of her own eyelids. It was a new bright world that burned her skin and parched her throat, and whether open or shut, her poor sensitive eyes could see none of it.
If she had to die, she hoped sincerely that it wouldn't be like that; blind and heavy and burning. Just once, before she died, she would like to see another person. Just one, who could tell her that humanity still lived.
Then, maybe, she could die content.
To be continued...
Please leave a review with any comments and constructive criticism you may have. They are always greatly appreciated, and there is no better reward for a writer than to hear back from the readers.
Many thanks to Peter King and Richard King for their proofreading assistance.
(c) Nutzoide 2008