Perhaps the last thing one wants to see, having just spent 2,000 hard-earned caps on a bodyguard, is said bodyguard splattering the wall with his previous boss' brains. It doesn't say much for employee loyalty. But before I had time to regret my decision, the ghoul who went by the name "Charon" had advanced on me. Needless to say, I flinched.
"Alright. Let's go."
"Whoa! What the fuck was that?" I spluttered, shocked and more than a little concerned about the new friends I was making
"Ahzrukhal was an evil bastard. So long as he held my contract, I was honour bound to do as he commanded. But now you are my employer, which freed me to rid the world of that disgusting rat. And now, for good or for ill, I serve you."
And so it came to be that I acquired my most loyal companion (sorry, Dogmeat - my most loyal human companion) in my arduous journey through the Wastelands. But I think I'm starting in entirely the wrong place. Let's go back to the start.
I won't bore you with a detailed retelling of my first few months out here - I don't suppose anyone really gives a damn - but every story has to start somewhere. Turns out, surviving out in the Wastes wasn't as easy as I thought it was going to be. Call it youthful arrogance, or just plain stupidity, but I thought I could handle it outside the Vault. I thought it would be a breeze compared to living with the Overseer. But that idea was shattered the second I stepped out into natural sunlight for the first time in my life and was near blinded. Of course, things only got worse when my eyesight cleared and I was met with a landscape more expansive - and more frightening - than I could ever have imagined.
Thank God for Megaton.
I honestly think that if I hadn't stumbled upon that strange little settlement, I would have been dead in a week. If the raiders or radscorpions hadn't got me, starvation probably would have. Or just blind naiveté. As smart as I thought I was inside 101 (and believe me, I thought I was real smart), it all meant jack outside in the real world. I needed someone to show me the ropes.
Thank God for Gob.
I don't know why he was so nice to me. Maybe simply because I didn't freak out and try to shoot him in the face the first time I met the guy - although, that would have been a hilarious sight to behold, me with my BB gun and all the life experience of a goddamn three year old. Don't get me wrong - I did freak out, but I was so lost for words that I just sat there with my mouth agape and let him talk. That was how I discovered ghouls, and pretty much everything else that I needed to know about surviving out in the Big Wide World. It was a lot to take in, and despite how much I wanted to find Dad, it took me a few days to venture out of the safety of Megaton again. Part of me - the sane part, probably - just wanted to stay for good. But filial loyalty is a difficult thing to shake, and eventually, I started to explore my new surroundings.
Somehow, and with a little help from the Megatonians, I managed to not get myself killed, enslaved, or eaten. And somehow, I ended up on Dad's trail. It was all thanks to this radio DJ named Three Dog - a real stand up guy, who offered to help me in exchange for a small favour. Bolstered by my successes so far and by Three Dog's faith in me, I accepted without a moment's consideration. My inflated ego wasn't going to survive unscathed for too much longer.
By then, I'd done some odd jobs around Megaton to earn myself some caps. A trader named Moira Brown wanted me to do some weird stuff for a book she was writing - and then there was that bomb. Although the founders of Megaton weren't lacking in ambition, they were definitely at the shallow end of the intelligence pool. Of all things to build a settlement around, an unexploded atomic bomb wasn't the best centrepiece. I may not have known about survival, or guns, or anything Wastelanders thought important - but I sure as hell knew about science. There were a few hairy moments (a couple of times I was sure I was about to meet my maker, the sorry son of a bitch) but I just about managed to disarm that thing. It was actually the first time I'd felt normal since I'd left the Vault - tinkering with stuff that I probably shouldn't have been tinkering with. Well, everyone always said I was my father's daughter, through and through.
Anyway, with the caps I'd saved up, I bought myself a gun - a mighty .32 pistol, to be exact. I convinced Moira to throw in an old, brown leather outfit as well - just so I wasn't always immediately identified as a damn Vault Dweller wherever I went. It generally got me nothing but looks of sympathy or loathing - or both. So, kitted out in my new gear and feeling every inch the dangerous, daring Wasteland adventurer, I set off to do what Three Dog asked. I had no doubt in my mind that now I was tough enough to take it.
I lost count of the amount of times I nearly died. Three Dog's little favour turned out to be a mite trickier than I had first thought. I had to go through a collapsed subway, where I met the wrong kind of ghouls. It wouldn't have been so bad if it just hadn't been so dark. And those things, they were like creatures out of a nightmare. I nearly lost my nerve a couple of times, and I definitely lost my way more than once - but I got through, somehow, and I even picked up some much needed ammo on the way. Looting the dead was something I never thought I'd ever be disrespectful enough to stoop to. I guess things change when you don't have the luxury of cushioned Vault-Tec bubble wrap to protect you from the Big Bad Outside.
Then I hit the Mall, and as if ghouls and mutated bugs weren't bad enough, I was introduced to a whole new kind of terror. Super Mutants. They were the reason I ended up in Underworld. Apparently, I got into a minor skirmish with a few of them, and I woke up, bruised, shot-up and battered, but alive at least, in a ghoul-run hospital. Or at least, I think it was a hospital. Truth be told, it looked more like a mortuary.
As it transpired, I'd had my ass handed to me on a platter by those Frankensteins, and some ghouls had managed to save my sorry soul when the mutants took me for dead and lost interest in my corpse. Apparently, I wasn't even worth looting. Bastards. Anyway, I expected them to charge me every cap I had on me for the help, but they never even asked for an I.O.U. For a few days, they kept me in a hospital bed, and I sat around wondering what the hell their angle was. Being out in the wastes for so long had turned me suspicious - I guess it was ironic that it took a bunch of deformed, mutated freaks to remind me what humanity was like.
When I was finally let out of The Chop Shop - their name for it, not mine - I decided to hang around until I got my strength back. I didn't like to entertain the idea of heading back out to the Frankenstein infested capital city, but instead of facing up to my pure, unbridled cowardice, I told myself that I still wasn't well enough to go anywhere, and that Dad could wait a few more days. Besides, it wasn't like he worried about me when he decided to up and abandon his kid.
That was another thing I hated about out here. It was turning me cynical. If there was one thing I believed in when I was a kid, it was humanity. Plain old human decency. People could be stupid sometimes, and people could be irrational, but deep down I always thought everyone had a bit of good in them. I'm not so sure any more. Sometimes I think… well, I don't know what I think. I guess it's a hard life out here, and people have to be hard to survive it.
The ghouls were good, though. When I met Carol, and after an interrogation about Gob, she made me feel right at home - and so did Greta, even if she did watch me like a hawk. I could have laughed myself sick when I found out it was jealousy that made her so wary of me. Even if I had been batting for the other team, I'd like to think I could've done a bit better than a half-dead ghoul who pre-dated the War.
I spent most of my recuperation time at Carol's Place until, reluctantly, I decided it was time to go. I packed my few belongings with more than a little sense of regret - just like Megaton, the Underworld felt a little like home, now. But I had bigger fish to fry.
On a whim, before I left, I decided to check out the competition, and that's when I first laid eyes on Charon. I'd heard a couple of people talking about him - whispers, mostly, about his exploits as Ahzrukhal's bouncer. My foremost impression of him was of how big he was. Usually people, both from the Vaults and from without, are pretty short. I guess it comes from the lack of a proper diet. Or the radiation. Or just the hopelessness of the pointless mess the world's ended up in. Charon was different, though. He was at least a foot and a half bigger than me, and taller than any of the men I had met so far. He cut an impressive figure, stood there in the corner like a living, breathing gargoyle.
But his height was misleading; Charon wasn't necessarily big built. He was a pretty lean guy - sinewy, I guess, if you can excuse the crassness of describing a ghoul like that. I suppose radiation sickness is bound to have a slimming effect on you. But however you wanted to describe him, it was obvious that he was strong - and word was, he was a slaughterer with that shotgun of his.
Most memorable, though, was how afraid he made me feel. I have to admit it, as accommodating to ghouls as I like to think I am, they did and still do scare me a little. They just look so horrifying, flesh rotted and eyes haunted. I know it's cruel to think like that, but it's true what Three Dog says - they do look like monsters from an old horror flick. I didn't like to look at Charon for too long; the exposed muscle tissue and the torn flesh made me feel sick, and all too aware of my own mortality. I was ashamed to feel that way, to be so shallow, but it was a natural gut reaction. Nothing I could do would change it.
I think it's fair to say, that's when the idea hit me. Well, it was more like an epiphany, to be honest. Ghouls have a real (undeserved, in my opinion) reputation for being mindless zombie brutes. If Charon made me feel that afraid, even when I knew he was no threat, imagine how he would affect would-be assailants! If I had Charon as my bouncer, I might be able to avoid a fight altogether - and even if I couldn't, I was certain he could handle anything the Wasteland threw his way. I needed help out there if I didn't want to wind up Yao Guai grub - that was obvious enough - and by hook or by crook, I was going to hire Charon to be that help.
Scrawny. Pale. Wouldn't last five minutes out in the Wastes. They were the first things that went through my head when the kid walked through the doors of The Ninth Circle. Then she spoke, something about needing a bodyguard, and the next impression that immediately struck me was "annoying". Why was she finding it so difficult to understand? Talk. To. Ahzrukhal. I got nothing in response but a gormless, blank stare framed by a narrow face and unkempt red hair. "Stupid", naturally followed in my lengthening list of adjectives. I breathed a sigh of exasperated relief when she finally got the message and went to talk to the boss, that waste of space, piece of shit Ahzrukhal. I don't know who I felt worse for - he was a snake in the grass and she was clearly mentally retarded. Part of me actually wanted to overhear that conversation.
In point of fact, the more I watched them, the more interested I became. They were up to something, and I had the horrible suspicion the kid was being fleeced out of her life's savings - or maybe just her life, full stop. I would have felt bad, only I learned a long time ago just to stop caring. There was no point when my fucking programming meant I couldn't do shit if my boss didn't give me a pat on the head like a good boy and tell me it was okay. Besides, at least it would be a learning experience for her. What doesn't kill you, right?
Only, that wasn't quite how it worked out. Seconds later, the kid was bobbing around with excitement, waving a piece of paper in my face like it was the fucking antidote to Jet. Her expression was one I'd eventually come to dread - it meant she'd gone and done some sort of stupid good deed that made her think she was a goddamn Hero of the Wastes. That was fine, but it was the resulting mess that I'd inevitably have to clean up which would get kind of grating. That, and the gloating.
So, she had bought my contract. It was just my luck to wind up with some do-gooder smoothskin as my employer. Still, I had to admit, it was better than working for that son of a whore Ahzrukhal. The shit I'd had to take from that guy, the number of times I'd dreamed about squeezing the life out of him, inch by inch. Well, it was payback time now. The kid had done a good thing; after all this time, I was finally able to annihilate my dear old boss - and it was karma, too, for the amount of suffering that drug-pushing slimeball had dished out to others. I think the best thing about it was watching the realisation of what was happening dawn on his face, before his ugly, melted mug exploded all over the bar.
Think I shocked the kid. Thought for a second she might puke, or faint. But she had to learn about the world somehow, and if you asked me, I was doing her a favour. I wiped a piece of brain off her cheek, and vowed my loyalty - for good or for ill.
Probably should have at least asked the kid her name, though.