November 27, 2287 – As Ada and I approached the edge of the Glowing Sea, back to what I’d say was the proper Commonwealth, the sun had started to emerge over a hill toward the eastern horizon. An irradiated pond in the valley before me increasingly mirrored the oranges of morning, and I felt a building but unexpected sensation of contentment wash over me – a kind of peace I hadn’t felt in a long, long time. I was reminded of a morning when I was a child. In fact, maybe I had visited this place before, because something about the row of trees way beyond and the way they meandered about the other side of the pond struck me. My mom and dad were there, the weather was sharp, with a cool breeze winding past us, the smell of lilacs in the air. It’s funny how the smell of a flower you haven’t smelled in a couple decades – well, longer if you think about it – how it can come back to you and you know instantly what it is.
I remember being on a large wool blanket spread out on the lawn, and I was playing with a green pickup truck. Mom was unwrapping sandwiches she had pulled out of a backpack, and I remember dad walking up and saying something about how far away he had to park the car as he smiled at me and asked to take a look at the truck I was playing with. That was all I could remember, but along with that memory was a feeling that everything seemed OK with the world. There was no drama. No one was fighting. Families sat together, enjoying the morning, laughing. Carefree.
Exploring that memory a bit more, I found it puzzling how people back then still found time to enjoy life. As a child, I hadn’t known what was going on in the world at the time. Even as the UN collapsed, political instability reigned worldwide, food and water shortages were common, and the United States had been consumed with war on multiple fronts, on display all around me was a testament to the human spirit – that people could still find joy and community even in times of immense suffering. And I hadn’t recognized it for what it was. I was just… Living it. Taking it for granted. If there’s something I can thank my parents for, it’s shielding me from the worst of humanity for a year or two longer than I otherwise would have been exposed. There was plenty of time to learn about worrying based on what was was happening in the world. But that day, I got to be a kid for just a bit longer. Not everyone had that luxury.
Come to think of it, I don’t know if I ever felt the kind of peace I had felt since that memory. Maybe it was the last day I really felt like that. It’s quite possible. I wondered if that’s why it was sticking in my mind now? Brain of the past arriving with some kind of message for brain of the present.
I wished there was a way I could preserve this feeling for a little longer. But for now, I tried to be grateful for feeling it at all. Maybe it was the dramatic change of atmosphere – coming back to the marble blue skies from that toxic yellow soup in the Glowing Sea. I doubted it was merely my adjusting to the “new normal” of a Commonwealth inhabited with Super Mutants patrolling nearby and deadly robots on my trail.
I gazed at the cirrus clouds spreading across the sky and promptly tripped on a piece of steel rebar sticking up in a loop out of the ground, all that remained where once a structure of some kind stood.
“You seem distracted,” noted Ada.
“Yeah, I… remembered something, from when I was a kid.”
“A purely human concept,” she noted.
“What’s that,” I asked?
“Memories of childhood.”
“I suppose it is,” I replied. “You have some kind of basic knowledge when you’re brought online though, right? Do they give you memories?”
“My programming wasn’t designed that way,” she said, with not a hint of regret or sadness in her metallic voice.
“Do you remember having a parent?” I asked.
“No,” she replied dryly, again, no emotion.
And that’s when I started to feel sad for Ada. Sad for a machine, who I wasn’t sure was capable of feeling sad for herself, even as she seemed to be having some kind of other emerging feelings, at least based on what she had said before.
We trudged on for what must have been another mile or so, and while the Sea itself thinned out, a storm was coming in at the same time, so I was grateful to see the back of a small pale green bungalow come into view as we walked. It was the first intact building we had seen on our way out, so we were obviously emerging from the grasp of Atom. I figured it would be a good place to get some shelter and maybe even get a short rest in. Well, at least for me.
We went around the front, and entered the little structure from an enclosed porch. Inside was a single room with a glowing lantern on a table, a coffeemaker and some coffee cups, and a metal bed frame with no mattress. Underneath the bed was an obvious metal trap door in the floor. Opening it revealed a ladder which led down into a concrete bunker with a desk and some lockers, which Ada and I looted for gear. Behind the desk was a skeleton, clutching a holotape.
We were in a vault, and the unfortunate soul in front of us was a government employee named Jeff Bazinski. He had been caught outside when the sirens alerted the Commonwealth that the bombs were coming. He said it happened quickly. The only ones they were able to save had been on duty that day. They had been under orders to seal the entrance or none of them had made it, and had to listen to their colleagues screaming outside trying to get in. They had eventually run out of food, which made me think the people left outside were probably the lucky ones.
Past the desk was a short hallway with stairs leading down farther into the vault. At the bottom was a shorted out door, which I managed to get open after a little rewiring.
Beyond the door, it became clear just how massive this place was. A short walkway extended about a quarter of the way into a big open space with three levels of walkways below the one on which we stood. Along these walkways were entrances to offices as well as little nooks with computers and storage boxes. I walked to the end of the walkway on the top floor and looked down into the open chasm and I felt a shot of adrenaline go through my body when I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. Along one of the walkways, three stories down, a synth was emerging from one of the offices. I ducked down and quietly got out my sniper rifle and tried to take it out with a headshot. Next thing I knew, I was under fire from two or three other synths that were coming out of offices on all the lower levels. Should have seen that coming I guess.
After Ada and I took them out, we carefully made our way down to the lowest level, methodically searching each room for valuable electronics.
The bottom floor of the vault was some kind of science lab, with computer terminals scattered around, and what I assumed was the central computer sitting on a platform taking up the entire back third of the room. I wondered what they could have been using all this equipment for. There were a couple of Protectrons in perfect condition in glass cases which I decided to leave alone. Just beyond them, beneath some metal stairs, was a power armor stand with a set of T-60 armor plating. This was perfect. I didn’t need the lead plating of the T-51 anymore, so this would be my new toy. I couldn’t believe my luck. I figured I better not push it, so I swapped armor and Ada and I headed out of the bunker, and right back into the storm that was now on top of us. If we sprinted straight through, perhaps it wouldn’t be too bad.
Within a few minutes, we were past the storm and on to Lake Cochituate, the edge of which we followed on to Natick Banks, and then the Natick Police Station, which I hadn’t noticed on our way in. I knew I hadn’t noticed it because it was hard to miss now, going in the opposite direction. The building was split in half, with half of it was sliding into the lake. From this side the building was wide open, but from the other side, it blended into the landscape. Just inside the police station was a functional library overdue book terminal. Overdue books could be returned in exchange for tokens which could be used for “fun items.” I wondered what “fun items” entailed in 2287. I scanned through the menu for the hell of it. Apparently, I had 35 tokens to spend on such selections as a Pencil, a Clean Dog Bowl, Potato Crisps, or Toothpaste and a Toothbrush.
While I didn’t consider the toothbrush and toothpaste I picked up, “fun items,” I was grateful to find them nonetheless. Of course, it had to be peppermint.
I hate peppermint.
Ada and I negotiated the treacherous tilted flooring and made our way out on the far side of the building, and found ourselves a couple levels above ground, behind the split. Through the giant crack in the police station wall, I noticed a glowing fire next to a set of buildings beyond a wooden fence that encircled a courtyard of some kind. As I looked out at the glow, at first I thought I saw something walking along the top of the fence. But after looking a little more closely, I saw it was some kind of larger creature with a lizard-type back actually inside the courtyard itself, walking back and forth in front of the fire. I was pretty sure it was a deathclaw.
Within a few seconds, I started hearing the voices of mechanist robots, and a few moments later it seemed as if a war had broken out between the deathclaw and the robots. A few minutes after that, a vertiberd swooped in and dropped a few troops, and suddenly, it was on between the robots and the Brotherhood. I sat back and watched the whole thing unfold. Ada made a move as if she was charging into the battle, but I told her to stay put.
As the battle seemed to be dying down, I looked to my left and noticed the deathclaw had run out of the courtyard, and had unfortunately found me. Goddammit, I was in the middle of yet another battle. Always in the wrong place, at the wrong time. I was actually glad the Brotherhood was here.
Eventually the battle was over, and the vertiberd took off, leaving two Brotherhood soldiers on the ground to patrol. It was time to get the hell out of this area. As we skirted the buildings along the northern edge of the Lake, I heard more Deathclaws lurking around. I climbed up a warehouse building and decided to use the sniper rifle on them. It took a few rounds until it finally fell over. As I was catching my breath and trying to calm myself, I gazed across the lake and noticed a glowing building across the lake and it was at this point that I decided I wasn’t doing this whole solo thing too well. Since I had left Sunshine Tidings Co-op, I had been rescued by Ada, and then essentially rescued by the Brotherhood. I walked down the stairs of the warehouse and back out into the Commonwealth. My ears were still ringing from the sniper rifle shots and I realized I was somewhat disoriented. Where was I heading again? Back to the Red Rocket? I just started walking. Looking back, I could have simply glanced at my Pip Boy to determine which direction I was headed, but for some reason it didn’t occur to me in the moment.
As I walked, something made me think about Piper’s article in Publick Occurrences – that one about the people gathered together at the Power Noodles stand, sharing a meal. I had nothing against Ada, but I found myself missing something. I looked at the lake again and thought about my memory, and all those people gathered together on its grassy banks. Maybe I was just missing simple human connection. I’m not sure how it had happened exactly, but after experiencing Kellogg’s life at The Memory Den, I had felt emotionally overwhelmed to the point where I wanted to be alone for a while. But realizing I needed help to get through the Glowing Sea, I had decided to let Ada tag along with me, which turned out to be probably the best decision I had made in any number of days. The Memory Den had been such a strange experience – living someone else’s life in that short period of time. Perhaps I had needed time to process what I had been feeling. But now? Now I needed to be around people again. Maybe not even people. Sure, I missed the community at the Red Rocket, but right now, with who knows what in front of me at the Institute, I needed a friend, and Nick Valentine was just about the closest thing to a real friend I had out here. It wasn’t lost on me that he was a synth, but so far, he was a synth with a heart of gold.
I was extremely grateful for Ada’s companionship up until now, but I also needed a sounding board. Someone to help me figure out the right steps to take in dealing with the Institute. I needed someone to hash things out with. Ada wasn’t going to be able to judge whether or not some decision I was about to make was the right one for the situation. For that, I needed a friend. I needed Nick. I was sure once we caught up he’d wonder why I went to the Glowing Sea without him. Would a synth understand that I needed some time to myself to process what had happened to me? Would he understand I had been just a bit freaked out hearing Kellog’s voice emerging from his mouth? Had I imagined that? Had Nick been OK over the time I had been gone?
Over my right shoulder I could see the top of Trinity Tower far in the distance. I could be at Diamond City by early afternoon. Once I got there, I hoped that Nick would agree to go with me to Cambridge to track down a courser outside the Institute. I still had a couple miles or so to try to figure out a good way to ask him to come with.