It's the eyes. The eyes always, always give people away. Horace looks at me, fearful when he sees my gun, and steps away from Dez. Smart man. In my peripheral vision, Cain also has his gun raised. Dezbe rolls from the table, and finds Dizzy, confused. I don't expect her to know, or to understand. Horace raises his hands in the air, palms facing me. I step forward, he steps back.
"Wh-what did I do?"
My gun is already cocked. I hear Cain slide the safety off of his. The noise echoes in the small room.
"Who are you?"
This man before us, he is not from here. He is from another time. He is from my time. His eyes tell me everything I need to know about him, except who he is. A pre-war man. A very rich, pre-war man. Enough money to somehow…expand his life, without ghoulification. But…why? Why on earth would anyone want to exist past the war? Most of us that have did not choose to, but instead it was forced upon us.
"I am Horace Pinkerton."
"Who were you, rather?"
I growl. Over the years, it is not uncommon for people to take on new names, and new identities. Life grows so wry for most ghouls, that it's simply a part of their life. Graves did so many times, before settling down beside Barrows. Horace lowers his hands, and I make sure to keep a close eye on what he does with them.
"It's good to see your intelligence hasn't dwindled over the centuries, hm, Charon?"
I narrow my eyes at him, and feel Dizzy slide between me and Cain. Horace shoves his hands in his pockets. Cain tries to shove Dizzy back.
"How do you know my father?"
Dizzy yells, trying to attack Horace with her small fists. Cain holds her still with one arm, his finger still on the trigger of his gun. Dizzy tries to claw at Horace, but she's too far away. The anger is there, still. Horace chuckles, eyeing each of us, as Dezbe takes her place beside me, gun in hand.
"Four against one, but your guns aren't needed. I mean you no harm, Charon. I never did. I had hoped you wouldn't figure out anything, but, you were always the brightest around. It was ill of me to allow you all into my home if I wanted to remain underground."
Lowering my weapon, I watch Horace pace. Dez goes to say something, but I place my hand on her shoulder.
"And you've got a family now. Who would've guessed? You have Barrows to thank for that, I presume. You know, at first, I didn't believe it was you. I first saw you here decades ago. You were arguing with the woman, there, Dez, you said? Right, well, you were arguing with her. I watched her throw herself off the deck, wanting to die just as millions before have. But you, Charon, you didn't let that happen. You saved her with a determination I had never before seen in you. It was…refreshing to see. And now, here you stand before me, free of the constraints of a contract and training people spent their entire lives to create. Freedom, Charon, and I couldn't be happier for you."
Dezbe looks at me, worried, scared. My daughter tugs on my sleeve, nervous, and I glance down at her.
"Living free, Charon, brings sorrow, when one cannot be what they wish. It seems, that's not your case. A wife, a daughter, and…is this the experimental android they were working on? I can't imagine they made him advanced enough to survive the war. A newer one, perhaps? Recently made, within the last ten, fifteen years, yes?"
It's Cain's turn to worry. I see, his fear of going back to a place that no longer exists still terrifies him at night, just as it did to me years ago. I turn back to Horace, and I can sense there's fear in him, too.
"It's been a long time, John."
I say, placing my gun on my back. Dezbe gasps, loud enough for the entire Capitol Wasteland to hear. Cain and Dizzy do not know this part of my past. But I have seen enough. I can't doubt, John would have found a way to survive. I know my employers were planned now, but still, I hold no anger towards John. He never harmed me. He was the one employer, who saw me as an equal. Aside from Dezbe.
"Charon, it can't be!"
Dezbe says, staring at Horace/John. I nod my head.
"One can change greatly over the years, Dez. But one, can never truly hide what they were born as."
"After you left the vault, Charon, it was my money that saved me. Money, connections, and doctors. I am, at this point in my life, no different than the experiment that stands beside you. It was painful, excruciating at times, but worth it."
"Why would you want to live for such a long time?"
I ask him, genuinely curious.
"That's a difficult question. Many reasons, I suppose. Perhaps the main reason, is that I simply wanted to see how life would exist past the war. I wanted to truly see, how the human race would survive. Remember what I told you, before we entered the vault? That we are not done evolving. That humans, as we were, were only the link between what we are now, and what we will be. And you can see, now, how much humanity has changed. The people are today, are stronger, more resilient, more resourceful, than those who walked into the vault alongside us. I wanted to see this change, study it, capture it. And in my own way, I have."
"Is this why you helped androids escape?"
"That, and because I am one myself now. Everything in me is artificial. It's the only way I would be able to survive. I felt a sorrow for them, a sort of connection. But enough about me. Come and sit. Tell me, about your life. Enlighten me, on how you've managed to break free from those that control you."
"There is nobody left."
"So I can see. They would have never let you survive like this, had there been."
Everyone is confused. I will explain it to Dizzy and Cain at a later time. Dezbe is awestruck, as she remembers the first time I mentioned John at Tenpenny Tower. But, without question, they follow me as I walk with John to a small sitting area behind another white curtain. Dezbe sits beside me, close, clutching my arm as Cain and Dizzy take silent seats on the floor. John sits in an old, pre-war recliner, as he lights a pipe.
"So, Charon, where did it all begin?"
I lean back on the old sofa, letting everyone know, they can relax. John means us no harm.
"Centuries ago, after I left the vault. You forced me to go, if I recall. But there isn't time now to tell you how it all came to be. Just know that it did, and it wasn't easy."
"I don't suspect it was easy. Nothing worth it, like love or freedom, is. But the short version is nice. After these years, Charon, I care about you still, just as I always have. You must know by now, you falling into my hands was planned. However, I had no intention of treating you like a dog. You…were similar to a son to me, and still are. Now, I want to know, how my son is doing."
"How did you know I would even survive after you forced me from the vault?"
"I didn't. I just knew you would find a way, and trusted in that. It wasn't in your genetic makeup to die. Even before those people got their dirty hands on you, the instinct to survive was strong. It's something, no amount of training can erase, only improve. Like I said earlier, I only first saw you when you were with Dezbe at Rivet City, and saved her. Were you under contract, then?"
Dez's hand clutches mine tightly. She's no longer scared, but there's a childish curiosity around her. It was her, after all, who first said John may still be alive. Even now, she's right. I presume I won't live this down if she remembers.
"I was, yes. Dezbe was my first female employer."
"And how long after that until you broke free of the contract? I presume you still had it then."
"I did, and about a year, maybe half. Time now…blurs together."
"Dad? Dad what's he talking about? Who is he?"
Dizzy asks, worried. Cain I can tell doesn't fully trust John yet, and that's smart of him. He holds Dizzy's hand tightly, as she looks up at me.
"Your daughter has a remarkable resemblance to what you use to look like, Charon. And the android, he is perfection in your image."
"Cain. My name is Cain."
Dizzy looks at Cain, then back at me. I sigh, not wishing to tell my daughter my own history.
"You know I am pre-war, Dizzy. You know little of my own past, though."
"I was a trained mercenary, to put it lightly. You're aware of this, don't play coy. But when I first met your mother, I was under contract. The details are too much for right now. Later, your mother can explain it to you."
I feel a light punch in the arm from Dezbe. She's annoyed I have dropped the responsibility on her, but she must understand. After this, I won't wish to talk of my past. It comes back, positive or negative, it does. I grow tired of it.
"…I don't trust him."
She gets up and storms away, Cain following. A door slamming tells me she has left the area, and that is fine with me. She won't go far, and Cain is with her. Dezbe chuckles, as Dizzy reminds her of herself.
"She has your distrusting nature, it seems."
"And her mother's wild ambitions."
John laughs, tapping his tobacco pipe.
"You say that with dread, young Charon."
"You have no idea the things I've had to put up with, with two women."
Dez hits my arm again, harder. John laughs again. His laugh is the same as it always has been.
"She has many scars. They must have fascinating stories…have you been present for most, Charon?"
"Painfully so. Pulling her out of trouble, only to have to find her way back into it without a moment's notice."
"Charon, may I remind you I was there when your contact fell into the wrong hands? Time, and time, and time again?"
Our banter is playful, as if age and family hasn't changed who we once were. It hasn't. The only thing that's really changed is the world around us. John seems to get nervous, with Dez mentions my contract.
"Charon…your contract fell into wrong hands?"
I take my eyes from Dez, and sigh heavily.
"I'm not sure, if it was the intention of my creators to have it happen or not. But more than once, my contract fell into the hands of Dez's enemies, and more than once, I have been used against her."
"…No. No I do not think that was their intent, but rather an inconvenience. What…I am curious about, Charon, is how you handled that. You listened to nobody, except me, when I held your contract. As if to you the world around you was nonexistent."
"…That is difficult to answer. The first time, I was…pained to hurt her, yet I followed through. The second, I did my best to offer her assistance within the confines of my contract, and the third…I didn't even know her. I knew nothing. The forced me to forget."
"An order like that…you were trained…well. For lack of a better term. From a scientific standpoint. You know as well as I, morally, I am completely against what happened to you."
"Yes, I understand. But yet, even when I first met Dez, I refused the order to kill her."
John coughs up smoke, and I feel Dez's head rest on my arm. She remembers our first meeting, just as well as I do.
"You refused an order? Against someone you had never met? Impossible."
"Possible. I did. To this day, I am unsure why. I like to think it was your words that helped. You know, as well as I, that harming a woman was never presented to me before. Although I am not bias, the situation had never presented itself. We were taught, women were sexual beings, sought to destroy our training, even though women trained alongside us."
"And…tell me how you acted the last time. When they forced you to forget."
"I helped her escape. I did not know her, at least, as far as I knew at that time. But something, inside. A feeling, told me I had to help. That there was no other option. She came back, like she always did, and from then on…I was never again confined to a contract. You see, I had destroyed my own. The Outcasts simply made another, aware of how deep the training went."
John is silent as he thinks things over. Dezbe leans up, and kisses my cheek softly. Her hand squeezes mine, and I look down at her. The years of staying in Megaton have softened her face. He hands are rough, and blistered from holding her gun, yet they're tender and soft, from being a mother. I feel I owe a lot more to Dezbe, than I initially believed.
"…Love is a powerful chemical, Charon. People claim it is nothing more than that, and only humans gave it meaning. But, loyalty, is something not just seen in the human race. "