November 28, 2287 – If you stay in one location in your life for a long while, your time in that place becomes defined by moments that poke through the fabric of your daily reality. Like the time the rainbow colored hot air balloon landed on the eastern shoreline of Misty Lake opposite Sanctuary Hills. It was one of the first warm weekends of spring, and everyone came out of their houses to watch the spectacle and visit after not having seen one another through much of the winter. A man and his wife had traveled all the way down from Rutland, Vermont in a new style of balloon they had invented. Beneath it, suspended by a heavyweight four-point harness, instead of a basket, was a small shed made of some lightweight material.
Then another time Nora and I were out in our backyard one fall night just after dark, cleaning up after a get together, when a hot white light rose up over the hill behind our house where they ended up putting the vault. Nora noticed it first. It just stayed in place – a totally steady light hovering. When she called me over and I looked at it, I thought maybe it was a planet, but she insisted it was much closer than I thought it was. After my eyes adjusted to the darkness a bit more, I realized that yes, it was right in front of us, not far in the sky. Just as I began to get a grip on exactly where it was, it started moving toward us, totally silent. We watched in amazement as it floated above us and over the house, making no noise at all as it went. I still couldn’t get a read on how high up it was, but it was just the strangest thing.
And then there was that over-enthusiastic Vault-Tec salesman that had stirred up the neighborhood in the days leading up to the great war. Just another odd thing that we didn’t think much of, until the day everything changed.
Then something else happens when too much changes. Something more unbalancing, that some people embrace, while others fear. Live in a place long enough, and then get several hops away from your time there, and it gets hard to distinguish between what you actually experienced in real life, and what you only dreamed over the years. The times past are like someone else’s life, or some whole other life – one that seems so distant, even though it was a lot longer ago in reality than it seemed to be for me.
As I walked along the muddy banks of the river, fumbling along in the near-darkness, with the smell of the dank, rotting vegetable matter smacking me in the face, it became difficult to remember I had ever lived anywhere other than in this struggling, decrepit world. It was so visceral and real. My previous life seemed almost dreamlike.
I opened up my Pip-Boy and tried to find the best way to Diamond City from where I was presently. My plan was to fetch Nick to accompany me to the Institute to grab the chip off a Courser, so I figured now was as good a time as any to send Ada back to Sunshine Tidings Co-Op. I thanked her again for saving me, and although she tried to plead her case to travel with me, she eventually sauntered off north to the Co-Op. As the reflection of my headlamp on her armor dimmed, and her ambling figure was swallowed up by the darkness, the sound of the wind rose in my ears, and I looked eastward to the glow of Diamond City, far past the crumbling north/south elevated expressway that I once again found myself using for orientation.
As I got closer to the highway, I noticed the red cone of a searchlight going round and round a few feet above ground level. Looking through the scope of my rifle revealed a Sentry Bot. Where there were Sentry Bots, there were likely valuables. I was OK on ammo, but was perhaps getting a little lower than I was comfortable with. Maybe I could take the bot out quickly with a mini-nuke. Might as well use it up, I thought. Upon firing, there was a horrific explosion, and then quiet. I switched back to my rifle, and was approaching the devastation when the bot popped out from behind a highway support pillar and began wailing on me. I just kept unloading until I was sure it was done, and then decided to see what reward my poor judgement had materialized. So much for preserving my remaining ammo. Not far in the distance was a scouting platform and another outbuilding, along with another searchlight which I dispatched with a quick shot.
And that’s when I heard another metallic voice – “Allocating additional power to the sensors – the hostile will be detected and eliminated.” I froze, and focused my eyes on the darkest spot in the woods, hoping that it would make it easier to spot any movement in my periphery. I stayed like that for maybe 15 minutes, and then ducked down and cautiously started moving toward the platform when an elevator leading up to the highway surface came into view. I still hadn’t heard any activity nearby, so either I was away from whatever it was that had been speaking a few minutes ago, or it was also staying put.
I had gone this far, so I figured why not take the elevator up? It had shielding front and rear, so as long as I laid low, I wouldn’t be exposed if someone – or something – *was*, in fact, watching. No sooner had I reached the highway when an Assaultron jumped out in front of me and opened fire. I hid behind the elevator shielding and fired back, eventually leveling it. But then waves and waves of raiders started coming at me from the left and right, popping out of hollowed-out buses and cars, emerging from makeshift shacks built on the roadway, and firing from behind five foot high piles of sandbags. One of the raiders shot out the controls of the elevator, and suddenly my only escape route had been eliminated. I was in real trouble. My only hope was to make a run to my left, toward a small shack which would hopefully give me a little bit of cover, as long as it wasn’t currently occupied. I made a run for it, and made it no farther than half way when a raider jumped out in front of me and opened fire, which I returned even as I ran toward him at full speed. I got hit hard, but he fell and I was still running. I dove into the shack and behind one of the walls, and realized I had hit the jackpot – there was a power armor frame and suit, as well as a rocket launcher inside.
The raiders were getting more bold now, closing in on the shack. All I could do is try to pick them off one by one as they approached. I would sneak a look through the doorway, get a shot off, and then quickly retreat behind the power armor stand. I cycled through a few different weapons, but the raiders were just too far off for me to get a bead on before I was shot at. I took my scope and looked around the doorway and could see there were three raiders standing in a row that would start firing as soon as I looked out. I tried to take them out with the sniper rifle, but there were too many lasers heading in my direction. I ended up just grabbing the missile launcher, something I had hoped to save for later, and for what seemed like the next ten minutes or so, I just fired missles from the shack out at the raiders, until once again, everything was quiet.
By this point this entire part of the bridge underneath the top deck was just in shambles. The shack was riddled with bullet holes and scorched by laser. Centuries old cars were on fire or smoldering, and I wondered if this place was rad hot from the explosions. I’d best be scrounging what I was going to scrounge, and get the hell out of here. Everything had been tossed, and I was just finding shit on the ground everywhere. Useful parts for guns, some scattered bits and pieces of power armor, some ammo, and some Nuka Cola I found in a machine that had somehow survived sitting in the middle of the firefight.
When I started scoping for a place to hop down off the highway, I peered through some open holes in the deteriorating roadway. The firefight had attracted more attention, as I noticed a number of robots scanning the area below me. I thought I had been pretty quiet walking along the crumbling remains of the overpass, but evidently not as quiet as I’d have liked, because I barely missed being shot as an assault was suddenly being fired upon me from below. I dashed down the roadway and across a few iffy sections of asphalt. Looking east over the lake, I could see in the distance the crazy goons from days ago still firing at each other over the water. The sounds of gunfire were farther behind me now, and I figured if I could find a decent spot to hop down, I could just outrun them now that I had some distance.
I kept heading north until the road started disintegrating beneath me, and eventually, I got far enough that I could make out Fiddler’s Green in the distance to the northwest. I hopped down and almost immediately heard the sounds of a vertiberd in the distance behind me, off to the southeast. It touched down on the embankment next to the water treatment plant, just behind a massive Chryslus Cherry Bomb billboard. I decided to backtrack and head over to see what was going on, figuring the danger level would be significantly dimished if I ended up in a space where the Brotherhood was patrolling. I gathered the roaming robots’ days were numbered, as I had now seen Brotherhood patrols around this whole area, from Fort Hagan and Fiddler’s Green, down to the Forest Grove Marsh, and now eastward as far as the water treatment plant. I had the thought that maybe they were starting to spread themselves pretty thin.
By the time I got to the Verti-Berd, it was empty, and I had no idea where the Brotherhood soldiers piloting it had gone, so I just turned myself north again, and tried to find a roadway that would put me on an easier path to Diamond City.
I ran into some Mirelurks as I crawled around a section where fresh water entered the north end of the lake near the treatment plant, and as I was fighting them, I started hearing shots in the distance in front of me. After dispatching the Mirelurks, I scrambled up a cravasse that appeared to lead to a roadway, and as the rocket ship monument for ArcJet Systems came into view over the hill, my eyes tracked left to the apparent target of the gunfire.
Laying in the roadway, clawing her way toward a raider who was hiding behind a burned out shell of a car, was Ada, encircled in a cloud of smoke and sparks. She slowly staggered to her feet and began a broken march toward the raider, who was taunting her. I quickly put myself between the two of them, and unloaded a couple shotgun blasts into the raider.
And then, without another word, Ada turned around and started hobbling back toward Sunshine Tidings Co-op. That was when I decided I needed to accompany her there to make sure she arrived safely. We traveled in silence. I didn’t even know what to say to her. I was upset with myself that I had ever sent her off on her own. I pondered the carelessness of the decision, and tried to recall what my thought process had been at the time. What had led me to believe that the trip back to the Co-Op would be relatively uneventful. The only excuse I could muster was that all the hostile entities I had encountered, had just in the last hour or so? As I was considering all this, my spiral of self-criticism was broken by the Sunshine Tidings public announcement emerging through the static on my Pip Boy.
With Ada safely at Sunshine Tidings Co-Op, I resumed my trek to Diamond City to see Nick. It was actually a quiet trip, the only ammo I expended was on a few annoying flying insects.
After arriving at Diamond City, I headed directly for Nick’s place. As I passed the Power Noodles stand, I thought I noticed a somewhat familiar looking ghoul sitting at the counter. It was tough to tell, because she was wearing a mask that covered her nose and the whole bottom of her face. She recognized me instantly though.
“There you are. I was wondering if you were going to show up.”
It was Bobbi No-Nose, the ghoul that had almost gotten me killed in Goodneighbor.
She launched right into the pitch, with not a hint of discretion, and informed me fairly loudly that her goal was to break into a strongroom underneath the mayor’s office. Said they mayor had it coming, based on how he treated ghouls. She had already lined up some help from a tech specialist, but he just happened to be locked up at Diamond City Security, and guess who she needed to help spring him?
I reminded her that last time I had agreed to help her, it hadn’t ended up so good for me. She hadn’t exactly been straight with me when she hired me for some “manual labor” that turned out to be battling a horde of Mirelurks.
“Come on now son,” she replied. “You’re a big, strong boy. You handled those creepy crawlies just fine if you ask me?”
“I just don’t like surprises,” I said.
“No surprises this time. I promise. Just break my guy out of the security office, and I’ll make it worth your while.”
I didn’t even answer her. I didn’t have the time nor the inclination to get involved with whatever scheme she had cooked up.
I found my way down the narrow alley to Nick’s place. When I entered, his secretary Ellie was muttering something about a connection between a Mr. Nakano and Nick, which was odd, because Nick was standing right next to Ellie’s desk.
“Well well well,” noted Nick. “Look what the wasteland dragged in. What’s been going on?” I said I’d fill him in on the way, but we needed to head to the CIT ruins to track down a Courser.
“Oh yeah? What do we need with a Courser,” he asked?
“Dr. Virgil said we need to find one, and kill it to get a chip out of its head.”
“Really,” replied Nick, matter of factly.
“Well, this should be an adventure,” he snorted as he grabbed his hat and headed for the door. “Have you eaten? We can chat more at Power Noodles.”
“Wait – you eat,” I asked, surprised.
“Well, I prefer steak, but I can’t taste anything anyway. You look like you’ve seen some things. Let’s get you fed and rested before we head out. You’re going to need full control of your faculties if we’re going to kill a Courser.”
When we got to Power Noodles, Bobbi No-Nose was still there. I chose a seat directly opposite her, and if I had been able to see through her half-mask, I expected she’d be sneering at me, or maybe even smiling tauntingly. She was definitely keeping an eye on me in any case.
Takahashi took our order, and I proceeded to tell Nick everything that had happened since we had parted ways at the Memory Den. I told him about my meeting with Jack Cabot, and how he wanted me to track down a metal case with some vials of serum at Parson’s State Insane Asylum. I told him about Ada, the friendly modified Assaultron that had saved my life just outside the Glowing Sea, and about how she and her “friends” had been attacked by a bunch of marauding robots that were patrolling the Commonwealth at the behest of someone called the Mechanist.
Nick seemed familiar with almost everything I mentioned, and when I brought up Covenant and the incident at the Tucker Memorial Bridge, I barely got the words out when he waved me off and apologized for not having warned me in advance about the place. “There’s been weird stuff going on there for a long time,” he noted. “I should have told you about that place as soon as I met you.”
When our food arrived, I was consciously trying not to watch Nick eat, although I thought the whole concept of a synth eating human food fascinating. I decided to ask about Nick’s experiences arriving at Diamond City, particularly since we happened to be sitting at the very spot where the Broken Mask incident was sparked. He said it had been hard going until he turned up with a former Diamond City mayor’s daughter, a 15 year old who had either run away or had been kidnapped, he still wasn’t sure which. Bringing her back, plus not trying to hide who he was had led people to have a certain uneasy comfort level with him, and after that he started performing jobs no one else wanted, and eventually specialized in finding missing people. He said some never let him forget he’s a synth, but by and large he was able to find a home in Diamond City.
“That’s the story – hope it helps,” he said. “Wanna get movin?”
We finished up our noodles, and I gave a little salute to Bobbi as we gathered ourselves to leave. We made plans to meet at Publick Occurrences the following morning at dawn. I got a room at the Dugout Hotel for the night, and slept more peacefully than I had in a long, long time.
As I approached Publick Occurrences, I saw Nat calling out the morning’s news, trying to get people to buy the paper. “You won’t believe what’s in the next issue. Just you wait. Trust me.”
Diamond City was already alive and awake, and people were bustling to and from the various shops and outdoor vendors. I browsed the newsstand and noticed that Publick Occurrences the paper seemed to be not so much a newspaper – a collection of current stories contained in one volume, but was more of a series of individual newsletters, most of them covering only a single topic or two.
I was picking through the various headlines, when I heard someone to my right ask Nat about a specific story from one of the previous editions. It was a woman, wearing a Vault-Tec suit and traveling with an odd looking floating robot that looked kind of like a Mr. Handy, but which only seemed to speak in buzzes and blips.
Susan: (to Nat) Hmmm. I’m looking for a back issue with the headline, “Local Wanderer Claims Deezer’s Lemonade not really Lemonade.” Someone recommended it, and I’m curious…
Samuel: You don’t want to read that, trust me. It’s not nearly as interesting as you might think it would be. Um, how about this?
Susan: “Local Raider Burns Down Malden Woods over Ancient Videogame?” – what’s this about?
Samuel: So apparently, there’s a landfill just east of Bedford Station? Have you been to Bedford Station?
Susan: Whereabouts is that, exactly?
Samuel: Couple miles north of here?
Susan: Ah, we haven’t been that way yet. We’re actually headed east.
Samuel: I see… gotta watch out for ghoul hotspots, then. Anyway, this raider discovered some mass grave in the landfill packed with thousands of almost new copies of some old Vault-Tec game.
Susan: I think I heard about that – Co-Op 76 or something was it? Someone came to my vault and tried to flog me a copy.
Samuel: Yeah, he got a bunch of other raiders in on the deal.
Susan: Multi-level marketing alive and well in the Commonwealth it seems…
Samuel: Yeah. But when word got out it was unplayable, everyone wanted a piece of the guy, including the raiders that sold a few copies. Apparently it needed like a dozen or so patches, and most of those have been lost to time of course.
Susan: So I’m gathering just based on the beginning of our conversation – as well as this headline here – that he firebombed the whole lot and started the Malden fire?
Samuel: Yeup. 1000 acres or so, just gone.
Susan: Wow. Did you know about this Mr. W?
Mr. Wigglesworth: Bzzzzzt.
Susan: What am I paying you for then? You need to keep up on this stuff. What if we needed to get to Malden? We could have walked right into that.
Mr. Wigglesworth: Bzzzzzt.
Susan: OK, so I’m not paying you. But if you expect me to keep letting you volunteer for these dangerous missions, I need you to make just a little extra effort, OK?
Susan: Well, I guess we don’t need that paper now.
Samuel: Hmmm. Seems I’m not a very good caller. Piper’s going to be upset – she’s the one who runs this paper. It’s worth a read. Pretty hilarious, actually. She’s a good writer.
Susan: (to Nat) OK. I’ll take this one then, please.
Mr. Wigglesworth: Bzzzzt.
Susan: Oh, it doesn’t weigh that much. Maybe I’ll read it and donate it to some poor soul before we leave Diamond City.
Samuel: You mentioned your vault?
Samuel: Your voice sounds really familiar. Have we met?
Susan: I don’t think so. We’ve only just left.
Samuel: It’s funny, about a week ago I found a vault, and when I used the intercom, a woman inside insisted I identify some ridiculous sound and then cut me off when I started asking about my missing son.
Susan: That’s awful. Who would do such a thing? That’s the Commonwealth for you these days. People are so angry. Not nearly as helpful as they should be, am I right?
Mr. Wigglesworth: Bzzzzzttt
Susan: – WELL MR. W – no time to lose.
(then, to Samuel)
Susan: We’re looking for someone ourselves. If we run into that *horrible* woman on our way east, we’ll be sure to give her a good talking to on your behalf, won’t we Mr. W?
Mr. Wigglesworth: Bzzzzt
Susan: (nervously) Cheerio!
Samuel: Well, good luck then.
Turns out Nick had great timing, and walked up just as the woman and her robot hurridly climbed the stairs leading to the entrance of Diamond City.
“What was all that about,” asked Nick, a puzzled look on his face.
“I’ll tell you on the way,” I replied.