Right, new project. This will most likely be the only chapter from James' perspective. Enjoy, and tell me what you think by dropping me a review and alerting; it'd really help with both writing technique and motivation. And please cut me some slack with Americanisms; I've been trying my hardest to cut 'u's out of words, etc.
Disclaimer for entire story: Fallout does not belong to me, and this is not written for profit.
The Project was all I had now, Madison had said. No, I replied. Harriet was all I had. Her remark made me realise this - I left the Memorial with my daughter that same day, left my team under Brotherhood protection to continue Purity without me. I enlisted the aid of my old friend Cross to safeguard my passage across the Wasteland, to corroborate rumours of an unspoiled Vault to the west, which I might be able to secure access to.
Surprisingly, the mutant camp a few miles from the Memorial was empty but for a lone Wastelander tethered to an iron spike, who Cross promptly freed and gave directions to Rivet City. Besides a few packs of wild dogs, the only issue we came across was a pocket of Jetted-up Raiders milling around outside the old Super-Duper Mart at about noon.
As we knelt under a nearby bridge, I suggested that we try to move around them - I mean, I held a month-old infant in my arms, violence hardly seemed appropriate. Cross seemed like to agree, being the pacifist she professed to be - but Harriet chose that precise moment to stir in my arms and scream.
"What the fuck?" Came an uneducated voice, as heavy footfalls crunched across age-old gravel.
"I bet it's one'a them stupid baby bombs." A rough female yell responded from further away towards the store. "Go see, Jesse!"
"Fuck you!" The first voice shouted back. "You go, Med." A savage grunt came in reply.
Footsteps grew closer, clearing the parking lot gravel and hitting the blackened tarmac of the destroyed road.
Cross looked at me as I desperately tried to quiet my squalling child. I bounced her in my arms and shushed her frantically, but she only yelled louder.
The Star Paladin pulled the pneumatic hammer from her back and donned the power helmet slung over her shoulder, becoming a metal beast. The footsteps were descending the slope from the road to where we knelt now. She twisted the super sledge in her metal hands.
A dirt-streaked face peered round the cracked concrete of the bridge support columns. He had one ear and an eyepatch over his left eye, and his incredibly bloodshot right eye screamed of Jet abuse. His filthy hair was slicked up, with God knows what, into a crude spiked crest.
He grinned maliciously, showing a mouthful of brown teeth bared in bloodlust. The stump of what was once a tongue wiggled nauseatingly. A frenzied bark of garbled laughter fell from his mouth, and he reached for his hip, for the rusted revolver stuck through a tattered belt bearing shriveled human hands.
I twisted away from him, sheltering Harriet's tiny form with my own mass. Cross leapt forward from her kneeling position, incredibly quickly for one wearing full T-45d armor. The pistons within the super sledge hissed as she slammed it into the side of his head.
The Raider's skull shattered, spraying the concrete and dirt with dark blood, pinkish brain matter and shards of bone. She stepped over the corpse, tearing up the slope and out of sight. The clanging reports of bullets on steel resounded from over the verge.
I pulled my daughter, still crying, close to my shoulder with one arm as I pulled a .32 revolver from the inside pocket of my dirty lab coat. Falling backwards onto my buttocks, I pressed my back against the cool concrete of the bridge and pulled back the hammer of the revolver, holding my daughter to my chest.
Savage cries of excitement echoed in the background alongside the snapping reports of poorly-maintained small arms, before the dull thump of the super sledge extinguished all. Silence fell upon us, Deathclaw-swift, but I stayed still regardless, still holding my pistol before me. Slow and heavy steel footfalls grew louder before stopping above, on the bridge.
"James. It is safe."
Thankful that no Raiders had found us, I scrambled to my feet and stepped out into the sun. Besides the obvious danger to myself and Harriet, the taking of a life, however depraved that life might be, didn't exactly complement my hippocratic oath.
Cross had removed her helmet; dark eyes framed by dark skin stared concernedly at me and my burden.
"Are you both well?"
I looked down at Harriet; her cries had quieted and she had lapsed back into sleep, those brilliant blue eyes of Catherine's hidden away. I glanced up and fixed my eyes on Cross as they prickled hotly and uncomfortably, in an attempt to distract myself from fresh and painful memories. My reassuring smile felt weak across my face, but I hoped it sufficed.
"I think so, Cross."
Happy to be leaving the ramshackle and frankly quite scruffy town behind, I passed the megaton bomb on my way towards the gate. A crowd of dirty settlers stood in the water under the bomb, holding hands in a circle around it as a youngish man in rags 'beseeched the Great One to wash away Megaton's suffering in his Glow'. Despite my single-mindedness right now, I watched for a moment, fighting not to laugh.
A shout from above caught my attention. "Oi, egghead!"
I turned and looked up towards the voice, shielding my eyes from the morning sun. Moriarty was leaning over the railing fronting his 'saloon'. I'd gotten some useful information from him about the incidents of people crawling out of Vault 101 every few years, and I was grateful; that didn't change the fact that the man was the worst kind of Wasteland scum.
"Remember, when them Vaulties send ye on yer way, Moriarty's yer best bet! Ye mus' know the Brass Lantern's fer junkies an' other scum besides!" At the outside counter of said establishment, a red-haired girl of about ten stood, wearing a shapeless Red Racer jumpsuit pinned clumsily into a child's fit. She scowled darkly up at the man.
"I'll, ah, keep it in mind." I replied. Turning to climb the slope to the exit, my self-doubt resurfaced at Moriarty's words. If I failed to secure entrance to the Vault, well, I'd fail Catherine. We'd sworn to each other to protect our child if one of us was to die. And my oath was, of course, in full effect by this point.
Cross stood beside the gate, the white bundle that was my daughter gathered up in her arms. She'd volunteered to handle Harriet's near-constant screams while I slept, as she no longer needed to.
I was; well, as prepared as I ever could be. I merely nodded and pulled the release for the gate.
"Well, Mr Clarke. Tell me why should I grant you access to my Vault."
"I grew up in a Vault back West, Mr Almodovar, Vault 21. I know Vault medicine inside-out." My reply was met by the crushing silence of the outer Vault cavern, before a reply laced with static came back through my Pip-Boy.
"Of course, Mr Clarke. You'll forgive me, however, if I don't take you at your word."
I frowned tiredly. The many rumors of a still-inhabited vault near Megaton had brought me here, but nobody ever spoke of the standoffish nature of its Overseer.
Fiddling with my Pip-Boy, I quickly sent an old intra-Vault message from the recesses of the computer's memory along the connection. There was more silence before he spoke.
"This seems… legitimate. However, you presume that our community is in fact in need of a doctor."
My stomach jolted as I digested his reply. I had supposed that medical training would be a sure-fire negotiating position, but the Overseer's paranoia was obviously trampling that idea.
"You can never have too much medical experience." A sardonic laugh came across the conference connection.
"Your concern is touching, Mr Clarke, but I can assure you our medical needs are well-taken care of through an Auto-Doc and our own Mr Palmer. I won't lead you on any longer. While I… I sympathise with your plight, I must deny you entry to Vault 101."
He paused briefly, ignoring my helpless spluttering, then continued. "Outsider influences would encourage others to push for opening of the cog-door, and I cannot expose them to the dangers of the Wasteland. You understand, of course. Good day, Mr Clarke." The connection closed abruptly, and Vault-Boy's face slid back into focus on the screen, before blurring behind my angry tears.
Stepping under the heavy red door and into the Citadel, I flexed my hand nervously under its makeshift cast; besides snapping a few bones, hitting the cog-door control console had hardly helped my situation. I looked down at my daughter, all I had left, and smiled, despite my dejection.
After failing to secure my daughter's safety in the Vault, I'd assessed my options. Purity was out. I couldn't go back there, and the science simply didn't work; there was nothing for me or Harriet there. My next hope was the Brotherhood; Rothchild and Lyons had offered me inclusion into the Scribes at least five times between them. But that was years ago, they might not be in such need now, and besides, Harriet might be a complication.
"James?" I jumped, startled by the call. "Elder Lyons requests you in his Solar." Cross stared levelly, waiting for my response.
"Yes, sure. Lead the way." Cross turned and marched briskly across the courtyard, pushing open a door labelled 'A-Ring'. I followed, jogging to the door to keep up. The corridors were mostly empty, but staring Knights stood either side of most doorways, watching me steadily as I passed.
We passed through a door to 'B-Ring', and Cross stopped in front of 'The Solar', opening the door and turning to me with a smile. "The Elder awaits, James."
I nodded, returning her smile as I stepped through the doorway.
I entered that room as a scared father and a failed scientist. I left as Head Scribe of the Order of the Quill. And my daughter, well, Lyons promised her a place in the Squires. I'd found us a home. I'd kept my oath to Catherine.