Disclaimer: I do not own anything to do with Fallout 3 or anything from the Fallout series. All credit for this story goes the the wonderful minds at Bethesda.
Song Credit: This chapter was written while listening to the song Round Here by Counting Crows. God Bless Counting Crows.
This chapter is dedicated to anyone who's ever had to leave something important behind for the people you love.
"My condolences, James."
James Matthews looks up, startled. His dark brown eyes are red with sorrow and regret. His arms are held close to his chest, clutching a wailing baby boy in his grip as close as possible. His clothing, a dusty white lab-coat draped over a simple, white shirt; faded green, military-style pants; and a set of hiking boots, is streaked with grime and dust. His poorly combed, brown hair falls in strands around his face, a far cry from the smooth wave he had once tailored so well.
"Is someone there?" he asks, startled. Next to him, Star Paladin Cross raises a laser pistol in one hand and hefts her massive black Super-Sledge in the other.
"I heard it as well, James," she says quietly. Her gray eyes scan the area, searching for targets. Her skin, weathered and dark, is barely visible amongst the blue-gray of her bulky power armor. Her head is uncovered, allowing the elements to find their way into her white, crew-cut hair. "Show yourself!" she shouts into the wind.
James prays for safety. Their venture from Project Purity has not been one of much danger; a woman encased in Brotherhood Power armor is usually enough to scare most raiders away. But this is the Wasteland. There is more danger than one could possibly imagine out in these irradiated hills and gutted cities.
The trio-Cross, James and his small son-stand just outside the cave entrance to the fabled Vault 101. The only active Vault in the Capital Wasteland, Vault 101 is impenetrable to all outside dangers of the Wasteland. Its denizens have also opted to not let anyone into the Vault for any reason whatsoever. Vault 101 remains, after nearly 200 years, the only place in the Capital Wasteland to be untouched by the horrors and dangers that plague all peoples in this hellish land.
It is for this reason that James has opted to come here. He knows his chances of success concerning access to the Vault are slim, but the boy in his arms is worth any risk.
The boy is all he has left of Catherine.
"My apologies, James," the voice calls out, carried on a dusty wind. "I shouldn't have startled you like that." The voice is closer now, and despite its knowledge of his name, James cannot recognize the voice of the speaker.
"Contact," Cross breathes, leveling the laser pistol. A man suddenly appears, walking calmly towards them, seemingly out of a cloud of dust. The first thing James notices about the man is his shoes. Perfectly polished black wingtips, their laces immaculate, stand out in sharp contrast to the devastated land around them. From the feet up is a pair of reddish-brown gentleman's slacks that don't flutter when the wind gusts around them. A dusted, brown knee-length overcoat covers a white dress shirt and black tie, giving the man a rugged, gentleman's look. A brown fedora completes the image, causing James to raise an eyebrow in surprise. It's an oddly out-of-date look in this land ravaged by nuclear fallout and war.
James feels as though he has seen the man before.
The dust swirls around the man, obscuring his face, and James can see little beyond a pair of black-tinted sunglasses. He stops just a few feet away from the pair, seemingly ignoring the pistol Cross has trained on him. James shivers in apprehension as he spies the weapon at the man's side, a scoped .44 Magnum, the silver barrel gleaming in the heat of the day.
"No need to be afraid, James," the man says calmly, even with Cross' laser pistol aimed squarely at his forehead. "I am simply here to offer my condolences. Your wife was a good woman. She had a spark of life in her that I have not seen in... well, in a long time. I was distraught to hear of her passing."
James' voice is barely more than a whisper. "You... you knew Catherine?"
The man shakes his head. "Not personally, no. But I knew of her, and her work. Your work." The man's voice suddenly takes on a disappointed air. "I am sorry to see that you have given it up." The boy in James' arms suddenly begins to wail.
"Enough," Cross barks. "If you have no business here then be on your way. You are upsetting the child."
The voice takes on a chilling tone that even manages to discomfort as seasoned warrior like Cross. "Do not be a fool," he says icily. "The child is not upset by me, Leliana Cross. The child is upset because of the world and the state they are both in. The boy cries because the Earth cries. They share the same pain."
Cross' eyes go wide. "How did you know my name?" Her pistol hand shakes slightly. "What are you?" Her voice is a fearful whisper.
James' eyes flash angrily. "I'm going to ask you to leave, sir. Now. I will not entertain you any longer. I will not keep my child out in this dust storm." The child wrapped in his arms wails, as if in approval.
The man holds up a hand, mockingly apologetic. "Of course; I apologize for inconveniencing you. Far be it from me to keep the great Dr. James Matthews and his prodigal son out in the Wasteland they are about to abandon. After all, it is not like you would have been able to save this place, given time."
James takes a step forward, the boy in his arms crying heavily. "I don't know who you are, but you've got a damned nerve to stand there and talk about things you don't understand."
The man sighs heavily. "No, James, you are right You do not know who I am. But I know who you are, and I am here to say goodbye, at least for now. We met a long time ago, you and I. Though I suppose you would not remember me. Most people do not remember me. We met many years ago, when you first discovered your gift."
James' eye go wide. "What are you talking about?"
"The gift, James. The gift of greatness. You had it in you all those years ago. You were finally going to put it to use. Your work was going to change the Capital Wasteland, forever." The man takes a cigarette out of his coat pocket and brings it to his lips. A lighter follows, ignoring the wind and dust, and the smoke is lit. The man inhales deeply, relishing the smoke before letting it loose. "But now your fear has gotten the better of you. You have decided to turnyour back on everything you ever stood for, everything you ever worked for. Everything Catherine ever worked for."
"Don't you talk about my Catherine, you son of a-"
"Please, James. I have heard every insult that has ever been. Do not try my patience." The man takes another drag from his cigarette. "I am not here to make you to go back, James. You have made your choice. I am only here to say my goodbyes." A wicked grin splits the man's face. "And offer my most... heartfelt greetings."
The hair on the back of James' neck stands on end. "Greetings?"
The man laughs, the first time he has done so the entire conversation. "To your boy, of course. The prodigal son. The one who will inherit your gift, James." He laughs again, but this time it is a cruel sound. The boy suddenly begins crying harder. "Little Gabriel. It is a good name, I will grant you that. Straight out of the Good Book."
James is taken aback, even now. "I... I haven't named the boy yet." He clutches his wailing son to his chest.
The man nods. "I know that. But you will. It is a good name, James. Catherine would approve." The man checks his watch with a tired gesture. "Look at the time, I must be off." He looks at Cross. "Good seeing you, Leliana. Keep up the good work." The man nods to James. "James. Gabriel." He turns around and begins to walk off.
Clutching the boy to his chest, James reaches out after the man. "Wait!" he yells.
The man stops and turns his head to one side. "I will answer one question, James. I suppose you have earned that much."
James' voice is almost a whisper, but somehow the sound carries on the the man's ears regardless.
"Who are you?"
The man laughs again and takes a final drag on his cigarette before walking away. He disappears into the dusty wind, his voice trailing behind him.
"I'm just a Stranger, James. Just a Mysterious Stranger."
For the record, it's my personal opinion that Fallout 3 is one of the greatest RPGs of all time. I hope this small offering has done it even the slightest bit of justice. Anyway, this is less of a prologue and more of a test-run. Let me know what you guys think! I mean really, tell me if you like it or not, because I want to do more. If you guys like it, great! If you don't, well, I'll just stick with the Mass Effect stories. This was a blast to write, and I hope you guys enjoyed it.
As always, R&R!
P.S. I know that the last name I gave James and my last name are the same, okay? The my favorite save file for the game was a male Wanderer named Gabriel Matthews. It kinda stuck. :P