The Harsh sun beat down on the back of Jason's neck as he wandered through the ruined town of Springvale. There wasn't that much left. Scorched, skeletal timbers told him where the homes use to be. Rubble had replaced the floors, and he could make out the dented shapes of ruined furniture and appliances including refrigerators. He opened as many of them as he could find, but came up with nothing more than booze and ancient snack foods. He did find two bottles of purified water, one of which he drank up greedily. His forced expulsion from the Vault, and subsequent adventure with the hound had resulted in plenty of sweat.
While the vault suit was made of hardy leather material, designed to last and endure plenty of punishment, it was absolutely stuffy, nigh unbearable in the sweltering sunlight. Jason could feel the rivulets of sweat pouring down his back. That was worrying. Dehydration would be an issue. He had to find a more reliable source of clean water.
A few battered mailboxes were still standing, and the street was dotted with ruined vehicles. Their reactors were still intact, and that was worrying. He checked his Pipboy's Geiger counter, but it wasn't sensing any danger. Jason suddenly felt very thankful that Stanley had given him the old 3000 model. The old mechanic had said that they were hardy machines, and Jason knew that if he were to survive, he'd need the Geiger counter. The map function would also be a useful tool, come to think of it…
He took shelter on the front steps of the nearest house and activated his Pipboy. He spent a fair amount of time playing with the map function, learning the controls. He had never used it before, and had been mildly surprised to find that a map of the general D.C. area already existed. Markers were available, and he added one in for the Vault entrance. Just for future reference, and to give himself an idea of scale and distance. He also added one for Sunnydale, exactly where he was currently seated.
As he worked, he began to hear music. A static-infused flute whistling cheerfully through the parched afternoon air. He drew himself further into the building, hiding behind the crumbled remains of a wall. He readied his pistol, preparing for the worst.
Sunlight gleamed off a large, spherical metal orb, strewn with antennas. It floated past at about head-height, the tune emanating from its tinny speakers. The song was a military march, very different from the soft jazz of the Vault. Yet it was cheerful and comforting. If the robot sensed Jason's presence, it gave no notice, and continued on its merry way, turned right at a fork in the road, and disappearing behind the ruined buildings. The entire episode was bizarre and surreal, and for the first time since he'd been woken up that morning, Jason found himself smiling.
He spent the rest of the afternoon rummaging through every container he could find, and by the time the sun began to set, he was standing at the entrance to the Vault tunnel, arms full of supplies. Old-world food and a few medical supplies. Some more Stimpaks, and a disturbing amount of drugs. The prize of his collection, however, was a set of bobby pins. They regretfully brought to mind his younger teenage years in the Vault, breaking into the lower levels for a quiet place to read the racier kind of magazines. The particular pack he had recovered from a briefcase had contained six of the bobby pins, which Jason had put to good use, unlocking cupboards and dressers. He had found an old set of pre-war clothes, and had ripped it to pieces, fashioning an impromptu sunshade for the back of his neck, which he had fastened on under his baseball cap. The rest of the clothing had been tied together into a makeshift bindle, which he carried about slung over the back end of his baseball bat.
Another noted find, which reassured him greatly, was a large sign underneath a Red Rocket fuel station. It sat on thin metal rods which had been driven deep into the dirt. The sign itself was a large, curved piece of corrugated metal, standing up to chest-height, and as wide as a car. The name Megaton had been painted in thick yellow letters, as well as an arrow pointing in the right direction. To Jason in his tenuous position, it was reassuring to say the least. A sign that there were other humans around. Perhaps even close by.
He had taken some time to decide whether or not to follow the sign. He had no doubt that his father had, but he also had no idea how far this 'Megaton' was from his safe-haven. Probably not very far. But he decided to err on the side of caution, and gather more supplies before setting out for the post-war town.
As he settled down at the vault entrance, preparing to crack open a box of dried noodles, he notice the changed sky. He had been hard at work, and the changes were subtle, and had taken a long time to come about. But now…
Majestic colors. Colors he'd never seen before. They shone with such intensity!
Jason dropped his supplies and raced up the path, past the gunk-filled crater. The body of the hound was still lying at the base of the rock, but he ignored it, climbing higher and higher above the vault entrance until he came to a broken stretch of overpass. It had fallen on the hill at an angle, and jutted out over the landscape, providing an unrivalled view of the sky. He stared. Oranges and reds… The bottoms of the meager clouds had been lit in brilliant shades of purple, pink, and blue. Mixed with the subtler browns and grays of the landscape, the world had crystallized into a kaleidoscopic, polychromatic painting. Jason found himself dumbstruck. The marbled sky had caught him in awe, and held him there. He could feel his heart life at the incredible sight. He felt cleansed. Renewed. At that moment, despite everything else about his position, he was thankful that he had the privilege to bear witness to the masterpiece, and resolved to watch every sunset he possibly could for as long as he was able.
He spent that night in the Vault tunnel. Sleep was elusive, especially considering that on the other side of the door was all the comforts of home. They may as well have been on the far side of the moon for all the good it did him. The darkness disturbed him greatly, and he activated his Pipboy, its glow a thin and depressing echo of the bright bedside lamps. His other issue was the temperature. Just as the day was hot, the night was cold. He had never appreciated the warmth of thick blankets as he did that lonely night.
As he sat in the darkness, he could hear the distant howls of the hounds, and wondered how the injured one was faring. Not that he held much sympathy for it; it had tried to kill him after all. They began to grow closer, and he carefully flicked off his Pipboy's light. He walked to the entrance and carefully wedged a few rocks in certain places, effectively locking it shut. The last thing he wanted was some creature to maul him on his first night outside. He wondered where his father was, and if the man was safe.
At last, despite his worried musings, his mind gave up. He had expended far too much energy in the escape to not drift off to sleep.
The following morning found him stiff and cold. Predawn light shone through the cracks in the tunnel entrance's cover. Jason rose and dusted himself off. He stamped his feet together and glared at the enormous, immobile Vault door. He gathered his supplies and set his bindle over his shoulder.
The moment he stepped outside, he knew that the sky was going to be lit up just the way it had been the previous evening. He took his time, trudging up the nearly familiar path to the broken overpass. He moved cautiously. The previous night had informed him that at least three more hounds were somewhere in the area, and he didn't fancy getting caught.
He ate breakfast while watching the cleansing sunrise. Between the two of them, he favored the sunset's more vibrant colors, but there was something peaceful about the sunrise. It was more calm. Not as…angry. And it affected him enough that he barely noticed the taste of the dried noodles he was devouring.
Jason set off around ten o'clock. He found the Red Rocket fuel station and followed the Megaton sign southeast up a broken highway. It led to a second sign, just around a curve in the road. It was pointing straight to a wall of corroded sheet metal, visible in the middle-distance. Wires hung from several of the highest peaks of the wall, and at the center was what looked very much like an old aircraft engine. The assembly was man-made, and Jason realized, to his shame, that it had been over a hill the entire time. It was probably visible from the plateau beyond the vault entrance, if he'd bothered to recognize it.
He felt a surge of anger. It had been so close! Perhaps his father had been there only last night. What if he'd missed James by only a few hours? Prudence and caution were well and good when they proved to be the right course of action, but now?
Jason stumbled blindly across the rough terrain, picking up speed as he neared the settlement. He paused a moment, coming upon the corpse of an enormous ant, the likes of which he'd never seen. It was a hideous creature with a disgusting red and brown carapace, giant insectoid eyes, and pincers big enough to grip the torso of a grown man. One of its eyes had been blown out by a well-aimed gunshot, and the foul-smelling ichor had seeped down the side of its head and dried on the ground below. It had been dead for several days, and the stench of its corpse, decomposing in the hot sun, was unbearable.
Jason held a hand across his mouth and stumbled onwards, reaching the sloped walls of the city. The name Megaton had been painted on a piece of sheet metal. As he approached, he heard someone shouting from above. There was a mechanical whine, and he realized that the mounted aircraft propeller had begun to spin. The two largest pieces of sheet metal shuddered, and slid aside.
"Welcome to Megaton." A robotic voice called. Jason looked to his right. A robot was standing guard at the entrance. It was dark in colour, with a vaguely conical body perched atop two stocky legs. "Have a nice visit, partner." It proclaimed.
"Thanks…" Jason stepped through the arching entrance, giving the machine a wide berth.
Before he could step through the set of inner doors, he was waylaid once again. A man seemed to rise up out of the sand itself. He was wearing rags. Threadbare constructs. Combinations of pre-war fabrics and post-war patching. His face was unforgivably dirty, with an unkempt beard, sunburned cheeks, and sunken, beaten eyes. Jason found himself reflexively backing away, but he straightened up; this was the first person he had ever met from the outside world, and he'd be damned if he wasn't going to make a good impression.
The man seemed more interested in Jason's makeshift bindle.
"Thank god!" he said in a rasping voice, "Someone new! I need water. Please! Water!" He seemed almost frantic, and Jason wondered for a moment whether or not he'd have to put his baseball bat to use. He hoped not.
"What do you need water for?"
"To drink!" the man said, pointing at the doors furiously. "They have plenty of water in there, but they only give it to residents… or people who can pay for it."
Jason hesitated. He did wait a few seconds, trying to weigh the pros and cons. Eventually he settled on doing what he thought his father would have done, and he shared a bottle of fresh water with the man. Then he proceeded through the tall doors, and into the only known human settlement around.
Is there any way to fix the spell-checker? It keeps on switching my words to the American spellings. There's nothing particularly wrong with that, but it bugs me because I'm Canadian, and used to putting 'U's in everything.
I hope I did justice to the sunrise and sunsets. I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've ever written a full chapter with almost no dialogue in it. It's strangely liberating.
Next chapter is Megaton. Expect Burke. Maybe Moira. I dunno.