War...War never changes...


"Happy Birthday!"

I'm stunned. Honestly, I wasn't expecting a birthday party, I thought the most I'd get was a gift from Dad and Amata. But, wow. By vault standards, this was big (The books I'd read in the vault library seemed to be full of extravagant parties, but they were probably fiction. Probably). Dad and Amata had jumped out from behind the booths, turning on the lights as they did so. My smile couldn't have been bigger.

The Overseer came up to me and gave one of his speeches. I suppressed a giggle when dad rolled his eyes at him. Even Amata seemed a bit bemused by his ramblings about it being a great honour to serve the Vault. He ended it by giving me a Pip-Boy, though, so I can forgive him for sounding boring. Let me tell you, Pip-boys are weird. They're almost impossible to take off, but they loosen as you grow, so that they're never too tight. Stanley told me that they can connect with almost any computer terminal, and at least activate the ones it cant just take over. Stanley seemed pretty proud of that last one, for some reason...

"Ashlyn? You in there?" Amata waved her hand in front of my face, "You vagued out for a second there. Like the Party?"

"I love it, Amata. Thank you so much" I pull her into a hug, which she struggles out from. The look on her face says it all No bear hugs, remember?

"I didn't do much. Your Dad organised it all, I just helped with the decorations and flipped the light switch. You should really be thanking him, not me" She looks around, shiftily. "I was gonna give you your present later, but here you go. Grognak #14, found it in a box in the attic. I think it used to belong to my Father, as unbelievable as that sounds." We both look at the Overseer-Amata's Father-sitting in a booth with Mrs. Palmer. I cant imagine him ever having fun at all, much less reading comics. I quickly capture my best friend in a sneaky hug before she could protest, before darting off. Amata laughed and told my retreating back to mingle.

Mrs. Palmer calls me over to her and the Overseer.

"Oh, you're growing up so fast, young lady. I can still remember when your father...Never mind. Anyway, would you like your present?" I like Mrs. Palmer, even though shes a bit absent minded sometimes. It's really nice that she thought to get me a present.

"Oh, you didn't have to get me anythi-"

"Nonsense, what 10 year old doesn't like presents. I remember when I was your age, I loved presents. Back then, the Vault was positively crowded, not like today.." She sits in silence for a few seconds, before returning from whatever memory lane she had visited "Here, I baked you a Sweet Roll" She hands over a small bundle, which I take carefully from her hands. Her treats are legendary. Any concern I had over her silence and ominous comments evaporate instantly.

"Thank you Mrs. Palmer" I manage to mumble, looking at the wrapped up cake. I can remember when she made one of these for Amata once, and she gave me a piece. It had been absolutely divine. My stomach is already starting to rumble in anticipation.

"Attention Everyone! I am about to cut the cake!"

We all watch in fascinated horror as Stanley lunges at Andy, the Vaults only working Robot, as the Floating Machine lowers it's rotating saw on the cake, but failing to stop the untimely doom of the confectionery. A small blob of frosting flies through the air, landing on the Overseer's forehead. He wipes it off with his sleeve, a dark scowl on his face. Now is probably not the time to talk to him.

I walk over to Dad and Stanley, who is laughingly wiping frosting off his face with a towel, a sharp contrast to the Overseer.

"Hehe, that could have gone better. Sorry I couldn't save your cake, Champ," He grabs my arm to look at my new Pip-Boy, "Ah, The 3000A. You like it? its a little basic compared to some of the others around, but its reliable. I doubt you'll ever have to bring it in for me to fix" Stanley whistles in appreciation. He does all the maintenance work in the Vault, and he really knows his stuff.

"Did you pick it out for me, Stanley?"

"Sure did, pumpkin. Al' over there might have given it you," He points to the Overseer, still angry, before leaning down to me and whispering, "But its really from me.

Stanley is one of my favourite people down in the vault, besides my Dad and Amata. He likes teaching me some of the things he knows about the technology that keeps the vault going, and I like learning it from him. I give him a winning smile "Thanks, I really like it"

"That's the spirit, but I got you this as well" He slams a baseball cap down on my head, temporally blinding me when my red hair covers my eyes. My Dad laughs at our antics "You still trying to groom my daughter as your successor, Old Man?"

"Hey, kid's got potential" Stanley "And I'm not gonna last forever. She'd be a good mechanic"

The mood turns somber, and I slip out while Dad and Stanley sit in silence. I don't really want to think about death on my birthday.

"Hey dingus, come over here" I cant say I wanted to think about them either. Butch, and his friends Wally and Paul, are sitting in one of the booths of the cafeteria.

"Who invited you" I scowl. I don't like Butch

"I'm hungry, and that stupid robot destroyed the cake" He whines "Gimme that Sweet-Roll Old Lady Palmer gave to you" My Sweet-Roll? Hand over that piece of Nirvana to Butch? Not a chance, I'm saving that for myself (Of course, I owe Amata a piece, but Butch isn't getting squat).

"No, Mrs. Palmer made it for me..."

"I don't care, I'm taking it!" He lunges for me, trying to grab the cake I'm holding out of my hands. Stanley and Officer Gomez both perk up at the sounds of our scuffle.

"Go soak your head, Butch, this is my Sweet Roll" Butch scrunches up his face, and sucker punches me right in the nose. I stumble backwards, stunned, while Butch follows, swinging his fists wildly. I kick out at his legs, but he somehow stays upright and clocks me on the side of the head, before Officer Gomez pulls him off me. I watch as he gets thrown into the seats of the booth he was sitting on, while Gomez starts chewing him out for hitting a girl. I touch my nose, and my hand comes away bloody. Bastard.

"Hey, are you okay?" Amata says, as she rushes across the room, "Oh god, your nose..."

"Its fine" I scowl at Butch, who is looking pleased with himself.

"What'd you do to him to get him to punch you?" she asks me

"So its my fault that he's too dumb to be a Garbage Bur-" I start to shout at her, but she cuts me off with a look, "...he tried to take my Sweet-Roll" Amata just sighs, and pulls me away from the counter I was leaning on.

"C'mon, you. We have another surprise ready" She hands me over to dad, before going back into the cafeteria, "Meet at my room later, 'kay"

Dad gets off the phone with Jonas, and tells me to go down to the reactor level. He goes in the direction of his office, and I go down the empty corridors of my underground home. Its so eerie down here, when you're alone. Its so empty and featureless, except for the small glowing signs above each door. Before long, I've managed to get lost. I'm about to shout out for help, but as I turn a corner, I catch sight of the Overseer and Officer Kendall, one of the many security guards, talking.

"...came to that brat's party because Amata is friends with her. The sacrifices I make!" He laughs cruelly, and Kendall smiles beneath his visor "Give them a few more minutes, then send them back to work." I creep back the way I came, not wanting to be accused of eavesdropping. I always knew that Amata's father didn't like me that much, but hearing him say it out loud still hurts. I lift up my hand to wipe away some sweat (and not the tears welling up, because there aren't any!), and see my birthday present. Of course!

After using the Pip-Boy's inbuilt map, I find the door to the Reactor Level easily. I've never been down these stairs before, since Kids aren't allowed in the lower levels, so I'm nervous in anticipation. I push the panel on the side board to open the door, and see...just another room, with the minor addition of a fence and some strange equipment behind it. Oh.

"Now what are you doing down here, young lady" Jonas says, getting up from a chair in the far corner "You're not supposed to be down here." I hadn't noticed him when I'd walked in, because he'd been hidden behind the Pillar, but I could see him now, with a stern frown on his face. If this is your idea of a joke, Dad...

"Jonas! Um, Dad told me that I was supposed to-"

"Calm down, I was joking" The stern frown breaks into a happy smile "and I wouldn't get you in trouble on your Birthday anyway" I sigh in relief, and wobble slightly. If anyone consistently gets the drop on me, its Jonas. He's just so hard to read, since he shows so little emotion most of the time.

"Now, your Father should be here any second, and then we can get to your supr- Oh there you are James" I turn to see Dad walking down the stairway I'd just taken, holding something behind his back. Jonas is still smiling, which I take as a good sign. Dad walks up to us both, and bends down to be at eye level with me.

"Hey, Kiddo. Now, the Overseer thinks you're old enough to start working, so I think you're old enough for this too." He reveals the object he'd been hiding, a BB Gun. I gasp in shock "Now, it might be a bit old, and it took Jonas and I almost three months to fix, but it should work fine"

I stare in amazement at the antique toy, or weapon if you want. It might be a bit battered, but its amazing that they'd been able to make it workable at all. I take a mock stance, sliding the BB Gun's stock into the crook of my arm and miming shooting it. Dad starts to chuckle at my antics.

"How did you guys get the parts to fix this?" I ask, after examining some of the pieces that had been used to repair it; I'm certain that part of the gun is made of a picture frame that went missing from Dad's office a few weeks ago.

"Well, if Butch comes round looking for his switch-blade, say nothing. Now come on, lets try it out" He puts his hand on my shoulder, and guides me to the next door, which most definitely doesn't lead to "just another room"

It was probably a storage room, but the corridor had been re-purposed into a shooting range. Gray steel boxes have been piled up in a long line, with more on either side, with specific boxes left out of the stacks, presumably for people to sit on. Three poles have been erected beyond the barrier, and I can barely make out the newly welded piping that they're composed of in the dim lighting. The dark flooring is a sharp contrast to the rest of the vault, and the lanterns that give shed light on the room are nothing like the buzzing fluorescents throughout the rest of my home. I love it instantly, the difference to the sterility of most of my life making it extra appealing. Dad and Jonas keep a few steps behind me, with grins on their faces. I want to say thank you, but I cant get out the words. I think the hug I give them both gets my point across quite well.

"Well, give it a go" Dad urges, and I aim at the circles attached to the Metal Poles. It takes a few shots before I figure out how to aim it properly, but I eventually get all three targets to spin around with a satisfying ping! I barely pause between shooting the last target, and moving onto the Radroach that crawls out of the shadows, probably attracted by the noise. Three shots, and the mutated cockroaches carapace crumbled inwards.

"Hey, good job Kiddo. One less Radroach to deal with. Hey Jonas, take a picture of me with the big game hunter" Jonas walks over to one of the boxes, and picks up a Camera lying there. I flick the gun over my shoulder, and Smile while the flash blinds me


Four Years Later


"You spend too much time down here, Ash" Amata says, as I squeeze my ancient BB Gun's trigger, attempting to bounce the pellet to hit two targets at once. Predictably, it misses. Bullets don't work that way.

"Well, you're down here with me, so maybe its mutual" I grin widely, and nudge my friend. She's reading a battered copy of 1984. Before Mrs. Stevenson died, she gave Amata a stack of "Classics", old books from before the Great War. She's read them all, but she never seems to get bored of them.

"Shut up, you" She says, poking out her tongue at me. I laugh, and go back to my impossible shot. Amata does have a point though, I spend more time down here shooting at these targets than I do anywhere else in the vault. I'm always grumpy around the other kids, and I don't really get picked to do any odd jobs that often. Dad says I'm going through puberty late, which really sucks. Ugh, Hormones.

It probably doesn't contribute to me spending all my time down here that much, though. I'm not what you could call ms. popular down in the vault. Butch and his cronies, Wally and Paul, have been steadily making life worse for me for years. The other girls think I'm too boyish to hang out with them, since no 'real' girl would like shooting things and mechanics. Freddie is, well, kind of a dick to everyone. The only one who I can really relate to is Amata, and I'm really glad that I have her as a friend. Without her, Life down here would suck.

We sit in silence, barring the noise of my BB Gun, for another hour or so, until Amata finishes her book. That's when she decides we've been down here for two long, so we head back up to the vault proper. On our way down a corridor, we hear some raised voices coming from my Father's Office

"..nas to you so he could learn to be a better doctor, not so he could help you with some folly experiments!"

"Its his choice to help me, Alfonse, and as long as I have the equipment to do s-"

"If you do not cease your experiments immediately, I will be forced to take action. Your Daughter, for instance..."

Amata and I share a look, before dashing along the corridor, stopping once we get out of earshot. Neither of us are runners, so we're panting a bit when we stop.

"what the hell was that about" She mumbles out. I have no answer, in fact I'm asking the same question myself.

"My Dad pissed off your Dad" That, at least, is fairly obvious.

Amata doesn't say anything for a while, and we recover from our dash down the corridors enough to start walking to our destination; Amata's room. When we don't hang out in my Shooting Range, we're mostly here. We don't have anything much to talk about, so we go to our default of complaining about the other kids. Amata isn't treated very nicely by a lot of them, although she isn't ostracized by the girls like I am, which I don't understand. Amata is really nice, and she hasn't got a malicious bone in her body. Shes a great friend, and a great person in general. So why in the world do Butch and his cronies pick on her? Idiots.

We chat until it starts getting close to curfew, when I have to head back to my own quarters. I say goodbye to Amata, but just as I'm about to head off, the Overseer calls me over to him. He's sitting at the table, outside of their rooms.

"Ashlyn, take a walk with me"

"Of course, sir" I'm a bit confused at this. He doesn't make a secret of disliking me. What could he possibly have to talk to me about? As soon as we turn a corner in the corridors, I know

"Ashlyn, I would like you to stop associating with my daughter"

"...What!"

"Your friendship with Amata has been helpful to her in the past, but you are influencing her in a negative manner, since it is her duty to become Overseer one day. Your recklessness and rebellious tendencies are not qualities that would suit a leader, and I would wish to prevent them from rubbing off on my daughter." He stops walking and stares at me "Do you understand me?"

I'm completely stunned. How the hell do you reply to that?

"No way am I doing that. Amata is my friend!" I shout back, letting my anger do the talking

"Friends change, and She would be more suited to have a friendship with other children of the vault. Her association with you causes her to have...difficulties, socially" He stops staring at me, and starts walking again. I start walking again, my face flushed with a mixture of embarrassment and rage "It would be best for her future, if she were to be on the best possible terms with everyone, and you jeopardise that."

"You cant choose who she spends her time with," I growl, "She's not going to just ditch me because you tell her too"

He smiles at me, a really weird smile. "We shall see. This is your stop, if I'm not mistaken" We're already at my room, and I shoot one last glare at the man who controls the world, before heading off to bed.

The next day goes as normal. Theres school, and after that a work assignment for each of us (these aren't very hard, just things like deliveries, or other simple duties). Once this is over, Amata and I head down to our normal hideaway of my shooting range, and she doesn't act like her father said anything to her about our confrontation the night before. Everything is like normal.


Two Years Later


"Ready for the G.O.A.T. Kiddo" Dad says smiling, and sits down at the table with me. I've brought a bowl of cereal with me to the clinic, partly so he can wish me luck on my exam, and partly because Amata wasn't at breakfast this morning.

"Well, I suppose. Its a bit daunting. What if I do badly?"

"You'll do fine," He reassures me, "The G.O.A.T isn't really something you can fail."

I think that he seems a little sad, but I can't understand why. I stare at my father for a few minutes, before going back to my Cereal. I have enough to stew over without worrying about my Dad. Today, my future job in the vault will be decided and that's pretty daunting. We sit at the table in silence, until I finish my breakfast.

"Okay, honey, time to go" Dad says, and helps to pack away the bowl and cutlery I'd brought from home "I'll run these back for you on my break" He promises, and ushers me out the door. Jonas wishes me luck as he passes me in the clinic, and goes into the office I'd just left

"Do you have the results of the exp-" The rest of my dad's question is cut off by the closing door, which I stare at blankly. But thats a mystery I'll have to solve at a later date, I'm almost late for my exam.

Despite that, I get sidetracked again when I see Stanley waiting in the clinic for either my Father or Jonas to be free. Stanley is in his late 60s, and hes getting a whole host of health problems. I've heard Dad talking about it with Jonas, and he's worried that the old mechanic wont live for much longer. He assures me that he'll be fine though, and I hope he will be. He's one of the people in the vault who I genuinely like, I don't want to lose him. I wish him goodbye, and smile at his shouted "Good Luck", before leaving for the Classroom, which is just down the hall from the clinic.

"..could show you a REAL tunnel snake, Amata"

"Shut up, Butch! Just let me through!"

All thoughts of Stanley and the G.O.A.T are forgotten, when I see Butch and his stupid gang boxing Amata into a corner. She's got her arms wrapped around herself, and is cringing at their proximity. Oh, there's no way that's allowed! I dash over, and push Hannon out of the way, and grab Butch by the collar.

"What are you doing to my friend, butch!" I spit out at him, glaring at him through squinted eyes

"Ash, don't-" Amata starts to say

"We're just...playing with little miss Overseer. What's it to you?" Butch, feeling confident with his big, scary friends with him. I'm not impressed.

"You mess with her, and you mess with me, Asshole" I didn't intend that last part, it just sorta slipped out. Although, it is definitely a fitting description for him.

Butch snigger's "And who are you, her girlfriend? Shoulda known you were a dyke" He looks to his friends for laughs, which they dutifully give. I give him a punch in the gut. He slumps down on the wall, winded, gesturing for his cronies to attack me. Paul is closer, and his fist connects with my cheek with a dull thud before I can react. Wally is next, and he punches me in the ribs. I throw my hands up in front of my face, blocking Paul's next hit, before retaliating with a wild kick. I knock Wally's fist out of the way with my own, and hit him in the temple with my forearm (taking a hit on the shoulder from Paul). I get my balance back, and-

WHAM!

Butch's hand comes out of nowhere, and hits me in the nose like a truck. I stumble backwards, crashing into the wall as I do so. Butch is still coming, and punches me again, this time hitting the side of my forehead. Some blood starts to cloud my vision, so it seems like that last hit drew bloo-

"Please, stop hitting her!" Amata yells.

Oh right, I need to protect her, that's why I'm getting beat up. I squint through the blood, and dodge to the right, my shoulder clipping the indent in the wall. Paul's fist, however, connects with the steel walls of the Vault, and I hear a satisfying crack before he shouts in pain. Wally is closer than Butch, so I kick at his thigh, and then punch him in the solar plexus. He starts folding up, and I give him another hard kick to get him to stay down. I start to move onto Butch, when...

"Whoa, whoa. Tunnel Snakes, lets go. We're not gonna bother with this Bitch" Butch shouts, his voice breaking, before quickly disappearing into the classroom. Paul and Wally follow, each nursing their respective wounds. I slide down the wall, finally collapsing onto the floor. Amata runs other to me, and starts checking me over for injuries.

"You're hurt" She manages, tears streaming down her face "You tried to protect me. Thank you"

"It's okay, 'mata. Its not like I could let them hurt you" Despite the pain, I'm smiling a little. I protected her.

She holds me like this for another few seconds, before helping me up. She walks me over to the bubbler, and makes sure I can stand while I wash the blood off my face. My nose hurts like hell, I'll have to get dad to look at it afterwards.

I try to convince Amata that I'm okay, but she props me up on her shoulder as we walk into the classroom. Mr. Brotch raises an eyebrow, but says nothing. I think he must practice being jaded and discontented every day in front of the mirror. Amata sets me down in one of the empty chairs, and takes the one in front of me herself. Brotch gets up and starts reciting the questions of the G.O.A.T

I stare in disbelief at my paper. How in the world do these help to decide job placement! The only one that's even vaguely related to work is the one about the interning at the Clinic! I still put down the answers as best I can, but I feel like I'm missing a crucial part of this exercise. I think I get it once I reach the last question though. Amata looks at me once we've finished do you need me to help you up?

I shake my head, and get to my feet, wincing at my already forming bruises. I'm one of the last to get in Brotch's line to find out our futures, except for Freddie (but that's to be expected, of course), so I get to see how everyone else gets assigned. Amata gets shift supervisor, which is basically saying she's getting fast-tracked to becoming the next overseer; no surprises there. Christine gets Home Ec. Susie will be teaching the next generation, while her Brother just walked out, saying he chose the answers that he knows will get him what he wants. I have some doubts about that. Paul is gonna be an Engineer, apparently. Finally...

"A Hairdresser! I'm no hairdresser!" Butch shouts, scattering the papers on Mr. Brotch's desk, who just seems bored by it all. I am amazed, he must practice indifference too. "Being a Hairdresser is for sissies, and Butch DeLoria is no Sissy!"

Brotch just stares at him with his indifferent expression for a moment, before calming asking "How do you feel about being a barber"

"Now just lis...hey, that doesn't sound so bad" Butch muses, rubbing his chin with his hand "Yeah, I'd be a kick ass barber"

I laugh as Butch leaves the Classroom, but start scowling again when he bumps past Amata (who was waiting for me to finish). I walk up to Brotch myself, but don't hand over my paper.

"So, sir, what position am I getting?"

The Teacher's expression doesn't change, but he nods a little and looks at the list on his desk.

"You're going to be a technician in the Maintenance department" He says, after finding my name. I freakin' knew it!

"The G.O.A.T doesn't mean squat, does it. These stupid questions are just there to make it seem like we made some decisions about our future" I say it in an accusing tone, and hear Amata gasp at my statement. Freddie is too busy trying to figure out whether the last question is a trick or not to listen.

Brotch sighs, and puts his hand on his brow "You're a smart girl. If you weren't my student, I'd probably like you. So I'll give you a word of advice: Keep these sorts of ideas to yourself, and stay on Alfonse's good side. Now, go enjoy the rest of your day, you'll start working tomorrow"

I want to ask more questions, to point out the unfairness of it all, but only nod, and Amata grabs me by the arm as we leave.

"You cant be serious, can you? That the G.O.A.T is just a fraud?" She wants me to reassure her, to tell her the test we just sat is important. I don't blame her in the slightest

"I don't know 'mata. I just want to go get my Dad to look at my nose"

She nods, those troubling thoughts forgotten by the both of us. We go to the Clinic, and Dad simply shakes his head when I explain what happens. Amata sits with me the whole time, and I get to tell Dad about my future career.

"Well, I guess you two will be seeing a lot less of each other" My father says, while he checks out the smaller cuts on my head. We both give him a questioning look, so he continues "Because of your new jobs. Amata, you'll be spending a lot of time working with your father, where he'll teach you the skills you'll need to govern the vault. And you, Ashlyn, will be down in the lower levels with Stanley, learning how to repair it. These jobs will take up most of your time, so you'll be hard pressed to see each other" He goes back to his task.

I'm completely silent, only half listening to Amata complain about the unfairness of it all. All I can think of was a confrontation with her Father, two years ago. When I boldly declared that he wouldn't be able to keep us apart.

Sonuva-


Three Years Later


The sky is beautiful. We are lying on the cool sands, together, curled up beneath the stars...

"Wake up"

I turn towards my lover, brushing a stray lock of hair from her eyes. A spark dashes between us...

"Ashlyn, you wake up right now!"

My lips brush against hers "I love you, Ama..

Pain, pain, pain, pain! I wake up with a stinging pain in my cheek, like it was just twisted. And just as it was getting to the good part too. I open my eyes to see a frantic looking Amata standing over my bed.

"Oh, hi 'mata. I was just dreaming about you-" My face freezes. I just said that out loud, didn't I? That look she's giving me...yeah, I said it out loud. Fuck.

"Knock it off, this is serious. Your Dad just opened the Vault doors and bolted, and My father's men are coming for you"

I'm just sleepy enough for this to not faze me, but awake enough for the impossibility of it all to strike me as odd. "You wanna run that by me again?"

She looks worried, and sneaks a look at the door out of my room. She moves over to my bedroom drawer, and starts putting stuff into a satchel. I see her pile in two jumpsuits and my tools, before I close my eyes to yawn. When I re-open them, she's zipping the bag up, and passing it to me

"My father thinks you helped your Dad escape, and he sent security to come take you in. He's already killed Jonas, and I'm not letting him do the same to you" She looks really determined, and unless my eyes are mistaken, shes been crying.

"Well this is a really bizarre dream, 'mata, but-" She turns around from her task and slaps me. I feel the pain, but its the shock that has me reeling. Amata has never hit me, ever. In all of our lives together, this has never happened. Its incomprehensible.

"You are not dreaming! I am risking everything to help you, and I would appreciate a little seriousness on your part!" She is shouting at me, and fresh tears are running down her face "I just had to watch Jonas die, because one of MY FATHER'S goons wouldn't stop beating him! And I'm not going to let him do the same to you!" She stands stock still for a second, before collapsing into me with tears pouring down her face "I cant lose you..." I hug her tightly, just as she clenches her arms around me.

Amata breaks away from the hug (I bury the moment of disappointment) wiping away her tears with her forearm "You cant stay here, not after this." She sniffs "Go to my father's office, and use his terminal to open a way to the door. He's blocked off the normal exit"

Her hand dives into a pocket of her jumpsuit, before pulling out a handful of bobby pins "You can use these to get in...Its what I usually do." If it had been any other time, I would have cheered her on for that, but the seriousness has already sunk in. I just nod, take the pins and make for the door. Amata grabs my arm on the way out "One more thing...I stole this from my father's desk. You might need it" In her hand, held loosely, is a 10mm pistol. The look on her face easily betrays her disgust at holding the weapon. I take it solemnly, holding it just as uneasily. I put it into the bag Amata packed for me, and nod my thanks.

After Amata dashes off, promising to meet up later, I move over to my desk, snatching up the Baseball Bat and my BB. I dash out into my small living space and look out the door, seeing no one there. I'm about to run off..

"Shit, pellets!"

I scramble back to my desk, and grab the small box of pellets for my BB Gun. Now, time to go proper. I run out the door, without looking this time, and bounce off the kevlar vest of Officer Kendall. I stumble backwards, too stunned to properly react, and Kendall grins he wasn't here a second ago!

He pulls the Security Baton out of his belt, and takes a swing at me, which I barely avoid. I trip over my own feet, and land hard on the floor. I scramble for the baseball bat that stick out of my bag, but grab my BB Gun instead. I thrust it between us, holding it in both hands, and Kendall's Baton shatters my ancient toy. Somehow, thats more upsetting than all the rest of this.

"The Overseer wants you, girlie" Kendall leers, before screaming in pain. A Radroach had bitten straight through his Jumpsuit, and he shifts his attention towards it and its fellow mutated insects. I take the opportunity to snatch up the two largest pieces of my BB Gun, and stumble out of the hallway to my apartment, and dash up the stairs. I don't know why I took the BB, it was nothing but dead weight at this point, but I needed to hang onto it. The nine years of practice, learning exactly how the gun worked, the grooves that my fingers fit into perfectly, the memories of afternoons I would spend with Amata, before it got all complicated. I couldn't just leave it behind.

But obviously, today was not the day for me to reflect on those issues, as Butch ran headlong into me as I turned a corner.

"Dyke? You got to help me! The Radroaches got in, and they're attacking my Mom.." He gabbles frantically at me, pulling me by the arm towards the rooms he shares with his mother. I slip out of his grip, rubbing my arm where he grabbed me "Why should I help you, Butch. You've always been an Asshole to Amata and Me"

He just stares at me, completely shocked "But, but you gotta! ...I cant lose my Mom" He even tears up at the end. I cant believe that big, tough Butch DeLoria is crying in front of me. This is the weirdest day.

I've got to get out of here before Kendall shows up, and I need to find Amata before she gets into trouble. I don't owe Butch, or his Mum anything, and I need to get out of here before I get caught...but I would never be able to live with myself If I knew I could've helped, but didn't.

"C'mon, you big idiot, we're wasting time" His face lights up, and he pulls me along another one of the Vault's seemingly endless corridors, and I pick up the sound of screaming coming from the room ahead. Butch opens the doors as quickly as possible, but hesitates after he opens the door to the room his Mother is in. I just push him out of the way, and swing my Baseball at the Insects attacking Mrs. DeLoria. I catch two in one swing, and send them flying into a wall. I bash the remaining one into the floor with the Bat, and turn back to the others, which I only stunned. They offer no resistance to my Wooden Bat, and they splatter over the carpet. I stand up tall, and let out the breath I'd been holding since I barged into the room.

"You did it! You're my best friend in the world!" He jumps over to me, squeasing me into a joyful hug "Thank you, Thank you so fucking much!" I brush him off, saying something stupid. His mother is shell-shocked, and she collapses into a chair in the other room. She smiles at me, her thanks written all over her face, before fainting where she sat. I take a quick peek out the door to make sure the coast is clear, and...

"Wait, Dy-Ashlyn" Butch grabs my shoulder as I'm about to leave "I know we haven't always got along...but I really appreciate what you did for me, and for my Mom. I know it doesn't make all the shitty things I did right, but here, I want you to have this" He shrugs off his prized leather jacket, and passes it too me. I hold it between two fingers, not sure if I should be grateful or offended by this. I settle for putting it in my bag. Butch scratches his head awkwardly "I dont know whats going on with you right now, but I owe ya one. If anyone comes looking for you, I'll tell 'em you went the other way"

I nod, and try to dash away again, but Butch grabs my shoulder again "You ain't coming back are you?"

I haven't got time for this!"No, Butch, guess this'll be it" This time, he lets me go, and I run as fast as I can towards the stairwell.

"I'll look out for your Girlfriend for ya!" He shouts after me, just as I take the first corner on the stairs, and I almost sigh in frustration; Butch just had to get one last joke, before we part ways.

I run through the next level without hindrance, avoiding a pair of Radroaches, and reach the next stairwell. Once again, I manage to bounce off the Kevlar vest of Vault Security. I try to swing my Bat up, but a strong hand grabs my wrist and holds it there.

"Whoa, whoa, calm down! I'm not gonna hurt you" Its Gomez "And I'm not going to turn you in either. They're all out of line here, and what they've done is unforgiveable," He waves me on, going past me down the stairs, "Be careful out there". He nods at me, before descending down to the lower level. All I can do is head the opposite way to him, and keep going. And, for the third time tonight, I manage to run into someone.

However, it isn't Vault Security this time, but Andy, the Mr. Handy that works with Stanley and I in Maintenance

"Oh, hello, Madam! I suppose you must be looking for your father, but unfortunately, I rather have my hands full with these creatures"The only hand that doesn't hold a tool gestures at a horde of Radroaches, which Andy was efficiently disposing of with his welding torch "They are rather numerous today. I do suggest that you go to the Atrium, however, as it seems that all this commotion originates there" Andy then ignores me, and goes back to slaughtering 'roaches.

Stanley comes out of the Clinic, a scalpel in each hand, trying to assist his Robot companion "Run, Princess. You haven't got much time before Al's goons catch up with you. We'll tell 'em you went the other way" He barks at me as he rushes past. I obey, a small smile on my face. I've actually got a lot of people who care about me down here, no matter how it feels sometimes. One more set of stairs to go.

I reach the atrium just in time to see Tom and Mary Holden gunned down by Vault Security. I scream in shock, this shouldn't be happening! It can't be happening! The Vault Security is supposed to protect us, not to shoot to kill if we act out of line!

I leap past the passageway the two guards are standing in, and dash up the stairway. When I reach the top, I'm treated to a view of the Overseer's office through a porthole. I'm almost there.

I turn a corner, and stop dead in my tracks when I see a horrible scene unfolding through a clear glass panel. Amata is being pushed onto a chair by Mack, one of the Overseer's newest Officers, while her father has his Arms folded behind her back.

"I don't know where she is!"

"Tell me the truth, Amata"

"I am telling you-"

Smack

My blood boils. Mack hit Amata. He hit her.

I press the panel to open the door, and draw the gun from my satchel with my other hand. I take aim, and fire three times, all hitting him as he turns to face the new threat. I don't smirk in satisfaction when he falls, or spout a humorous one-liner. Because if I did that, it would have been Murder. What I did was what needed to be done, because he was hurting Amata. That is not allowed.

This all takes place in the space of a second, and Amata's scream brings me back to reality. She covers her mouth with her hands, before running out of the room. I stand stock still, as the rage I felt just a second ago subsides. The Overseer doesn't move an inch, just stares at me, still holding the gun outstretched. I feel sick.

"You might as well drop your weapons and surrender yourself. You're in enough trouble as it is" He says it matter-of-fact, seemingly indifferent to what I'd just done. I cant reply right now, I just turn the gun on him. His expression doesn't change.

"I could kill you"

"But you wont"

I lower the pistol. I shot Mack because Amata was in danger, but I am not a killer, not really. Her Father might be a monster, but...Amata loves him, and I...I can't.

"Promise me...promise me Amata wont get in trouble for all this" I beg him. His only reaction is a small smile "She will bare no consequences for your Actions" Its the best I can get, I suppose. In his own way, he cares about her too. I slowly stagger out the door, only turning to look at him, now staring at the ceiling "Aren't you going to try and stop me?"

He looks back at me, a puzzled look on his face "Now, why would I do that? You have nowhere to go, and you can't evade security forever. But, by all means, enjoy your last few moments of freedom" After he says that, he seemingly dismisses me, and goes back to staring at inane objects around the room. I scowl at him, and continue on.

The Almodavar household is sparse, barring the body of Jonas lying on the ground, slowly bleeding out. I feel the bile rise in my stomach, and my knees weaken. I have no idea what makes me notice his clenched fist, or to pry to the tape, labelled 'For Ashlyn', from his hands, already suffering from Rigor Mortis. I plug it into my Pip-Boy, but don't activate it. Instead, I go through the archway to the next room, and find Amata with her head in her hands, violently crying. I put my hand on her shoulder, but I don't know what to say.

"I didn't tell them, I wanted you to get away.." She gasps out, between her violent shakes and tears.

"Its okay, you did good, 'mata" I try to sooth her, but she pushes me away.

"You've got to go. I'll catch up" She gulps at me, snot pouring out of her nose. I leave her, as much as it hurts. She doesn't need me to comfort her, even If I want to.

The Overseer's office is stupidly easy to break into. The lock is old, and I spend my life tinkering with Mechanisms, making them work better. I push through without breaking the pin, and head to the terminal, the only feature of the room besides a chair in its center. I pause for a second, before entering the only password it could possibly be.

Amata

We both care about her, even if we show it differently. No matter how much I hate him, I know he cant be all bad, just because of that.

I activate the commands for the tunnel, and almost turn to run, but...I open the other files, but I haven't got time. I download all the files into my Pip-Boy, before breaking the connection and dashing into the dark, oily tunnels underneath the Overseer's Office.


My Pip-Boy proves invalualble down here, in the absence of any other light source. Its eerie to walk through an area of almost total darkness, when you're lived with constant light for your whole life. If it weren't for the glow from my wrist computers screen, I would have been screaming for help, begging to be let out, in the first minute. The darkness was...suffocating.

I had to move through two sets of doors, and a long tunnel that connected them, before lights started to appear. They were the dim, long lasting kind that needs changing once a century, not the bright flouro's that Me and Stanley spent our time painstakingly replacing. So, when I reached a dead end, I was comforted by it not being pitch dark. My hands probed the wall, looking for some sort of switch, or groove, some way that would allow me to proceed. I found nothing, nothing but smooth, featureless wall. I can tell that it doesn't back on to rock, but there isn't any obvious way of opening it.

No, I'm not letting it end this way. To come this far, and to be defeated by a concrete wall? Not a chance. I redouble my efforts, running my hands over every inch of the smooth concrete, and finally moving onto the piping that surrounds the block. Part of the piping once had a switch attached to it, but it was hastily removed. I can only assume the Overseer did this; it certainly explains why he was so smug before. But, now that I now what he's done to try and stop me, I can get out anyway.

The door is moved by the pressure in the pipes, it must be. Before the switch was removed, it would have triggered a pressure change to move the door down. Simple really, but it works. I take my tool kit from my bag, silently praising Amata for thinking to pack it, and set about loosening the valves, until the mechanism disengages on its own. I pack my tools up, carefully putting everything back in its proper place, and move on. Finally, I'm met with the sight of Vault 101' s imposing steel doors.

I walk across the room, down the set of stairs to lay my hand against the cool metal. I quickly retract my hand, however, and slowly walk to the console that controls the doors. This is it. I enter the command, and watch as the metal hatch is pushed away.

"Oh my god, you did it..."

I turn quickly, only to see Amata ducking through the now ruined door that I'd only just gone through myself. I hadn't heard her approach, over the sound of the Door's screeching. We stand in silence, for a brief moment, both of us staring out of the now open Vault Door. I sneak a look at her, and see that her eyes are still red, and her cheeks puffy.

"I couldn't have done it without you"

She laughs "No, you didn't need me at all. All I did was wake you up" We both startle as we start to hear voices coming from a second door, behind us. We both know I haven't got much time.

"Look, if there's anyone here who has a chance to survive whatever is out there, its you, Ash" Her tears are back, and I can tell that I'm crying too. I haven't cried since I was nine years old "Go find your father, and keep yourself alive" She buries me in an unsuspected hug, which she breaks just as quickly.

"Only if you do the same" I say, before dashing down the rocky tunnel. The Security Officers arrive just as I leave, and I hear the whir of bullets chipping against stone as I run. I look back just once, and see Amata standing in the same place I left her. I almost turn around fully, to go and be with her now, but I don't. I pull the wooden door open, and stumble out into the blinding light.

My eyes adjust slowly, and I'm treated to my first sunset as I hear the door to Vault 101 slide closed once more. Its not something I can describe, its something so alien to anything I've ever seen before. I stay like that, watching as the sun goes down below the horizon. The repercussions of what just happened is creeping in, that my entire life just disappeared. Everything I know, and understand, is behind that Steel Door. I have no idea about what to do here, nothing at all. I don't know where to go, how to start looking for my father. I don't know what to do about food, about water, about shelter.

The sheer enormity of it all is mind boggling.

I start flicking through the stuff I downloaded onto my Pip-Boy, and I'm dismayed to find that the download didn't complete properly, and the information was shredded by my fickle wrist computer. The only thing that survived were a picture of a Metal Dome, or something, a few words, and the Note from Dad. Because I have no other ideas, I play the note, and start walking down from the ledge I've found myself on.

Hold on Jonas, I need to record this first.

I.. I don't really know how to tell you this.
I hope you'll understand, but I know you might
be angry. I thought about it for a long time, but
in the end I decided it was best for you
not to know.

The road is cracked and debilitated, uneven to walk on. Its also got a lot more traction than the smooth vault flaws, and I fall over because I try to slide my feet across it, like I would back home. There are also a few car wrecks, huddled together on the roadside. I decide against leaning against them, and just walk past. I have no idea where I'm going, only that I cant turn back. I catch sight of some houses around the bend in the cracked road. Better place to go than nowhere.

So many things could have gone wrong and
there's really no telling how the overseer will
react when he finds out. It's best if he can blame
everything on me. Obviously you already know
that I'm gone. It was something I needed to do.

The houses are in even worse shape than the road, if that were possible. The walls have long rotted away, and only the solid beams remain. The floors of all the houses have either been buried underneath the piles of earth, or they're gone entirely. Segments of tin sheeting hang from the wooden structures, but they all look like they could fall apart at any moment.

A large metal sheet has been propped against the railing of what was once a petrol station. It reads 'MEGATON' with an arrow pointing off to the right, into the hills. I consider following the signs directions, but veer off at the last second; I have no guarantee that it'll lead me anywhere good, but in the same way I don't have a clue where else I could go. Its not the only road leading out of this...a small floating robot has just crossed the street in front of me.

"What in the world?"

You're an adult now. You're ready to be on your
own. Maybe someday things will change and we
can see each other again. I can't tell you why I
left or where I'm going.

I watch as the floating device goes parades across the street, before changing course and moving down another road, not the one that supposedly leads to Megaton. Still curious, I follow it. Its not like I had anything that particularly needed doing. The device floats down towards a large building. As I get closer to it, I can make out the words on the sign, near its entrance; Springvale Elementary School.

I DON'T want you to follow me. God knows life in the
vault isn't perfect, but at least you'll be safe. Just
knowing that will be enough to keep me going.

As I get closer to the school, I start hearing the sound of creaking wood from inside the building. Some people, presumably. I leave the Floating Robot to whatever its doing, and approach the school.

"Hello! Is anyone in there" I shout, cupping my hands around my mouth as I do so "Can you help m-"

CHICH! CHICH! CHICH!

It feels like I got hit in the chest with a hammer. I take a step back, and stumble down to my knees. I look down at my chest, and see blood running like a river from a neat set of three holes in my chest. I try to stop myself from collapsing, but all the strength in me is gone. This cant be the end, not after everything thats happened. I promised Amata...

Don't mean to rush you, Doc, but I'd feel better if we got
this over with

My vision starts to tunnel, blackness filling my eyes. I can still hear the sound of gunfire, bullets flying all around.

Okay. Go ahead. Goodbye.

"We've got a live one, boss!"

I twist my head, and see a grizzled man in leather armor, their hand pressed against my neck. I'm too weak to try and stop him from slinging me over his shoulder, and diving behind the sign I'd just passed.

"I need some cover, Simms!" He shouts, aiming a rifle at the school. I can barely move my head anymore, but I look the other way as another man comes onto the scene, wearing a brown duster and drawing fire away from us. The first man takes the opportunity to pick me up, and start running towards the town I'd come from. I black out before we reach it.


I love you.


Check my Profile for Author's Notes on this chapter.

Also, I am terribly sorry for the massive formatting fail that this chapter has been going through. Partly its 's fault, since it ate the Italics and Scene Breaks. And it didn't save the spellchecked words. But, its also my fault from the way I wrote it, using two different programs (one of which required me to write with HTML, which is why those tags appeared). Anyway, it should be fixed now. Sorry about that.