November 7, 2287 – It felt like I had only just shut my eyes, when there was a knock at my door at the Dugout Inn. Bleary-eyed and groggy, I opened it, and was instantly knocked down by an over-enthusiastic Dogmeat, who proceeded to lick my face relentlessly. I looked up, and Nick Valentine was standing in the doorway, chuckling. “Looks like you found a friend,” he noted.
I was actually kind of surprised Dogmeat was so happy to see me. He had been my companion as I had battled my first raiders in Concord, and then after that we had gone back down into Vault 111 where he had somehow sprung the lock on the Overseer’s Cryolator case, a weapon that had saved me from certain death twice now. Other than that, I had felt he belonged to the Minutemen, and there hadn’t been a lot of bonding time between us. Yet here he was, slobbering all over me. I gave him a good scratch behind the ears, prompting Nick to ask if I was ready to get going, or if I was planning on snuggling with the dog for the rest of the afternoon. As I got to my feet, I asked him if there had been any issues with the settlers at Sanctuary Hills. He said the line I had given him had come in handy, just as backup, since it seemed the Minutemen were inclined to buy his story anyway. After Nick had fed the line to Mama Murphy though, their attitude changed from cautious skepticism to friendly banter. In fact, they had tried to load Nick up with goods, and even some fresh fruit they had obtained from another nearby settlement. Just over the western hill from the Red Rocket was Abernathy Farm. The farm’s owner had noticed the growing population at the Red Rocket and Sanctuary Hills, and had sent a scout to approach Preston about joining forces. Before Nick left, Preston had asked him if he might visit the USAF Satellite Station Olivia – the one I had seen just below the Robotics Disposal Facility – because some raiders that had killed one of the farmer’s daughters were holed up there, and the Abernathy family was very eager to get back an heirloom locket that she had had on her person when she was killed.
Nick looked at me quizzically when I snickered. “Good old Preston,” I answered to the unasked question. Asking for favors within a few minutes of meeting someone. “Lucky you got out of it with just one request,” I said.
“I’ve got six open case files at the moment,” said Nick. “You think I’m going to wait around while someone asks me to open a few more? Your case was a special favor, for springing me from Park Street. Perhaps we should be getting to it?”
I packed up my gear, and as we walked out the door, Nick pulled a half-smoked cigar out from his jacket. It was one of Kellogg’s leftovers. I recognized it from the ashtray in the secret room we had found. San Francisco Sunlights – identifiable by a particular blue foil. We left the Dugout Inn, and when we got to home plate, Nick knelt down, letting Dogmeat get a good sniff at the cigar. Next thing we knew, the german shepard was bolting up the stairs toward the Diamond City exit. The scent trail led through Fenway’s southwestern guardpost, and continued up the hill heading toward the railroad line that circled down from Lexington, around the western edge of the Back Bay, and then along the southern border of the Fens.
Just before we got to the tracks, and as the city buildings gave way to the foothills on the outskirts of town, we heard someone yell for help along one of the side streets. A woman dressed in jeans and flannel, with clear tribal markings on her face, was screaming that someone was injured inside Hardware Town. Nick and I just looked at each other, and I asked her what the problem was. She just reiterated that someone needed help, and that we needed to go in, now. It seemed like an obvious setup, and I pulled out my combat shotgun. If this distraction was anything but legitimate, there was going to be hell to pay.
The woman led us into the store, and then through a makeshift maze crafted out of tall display shelving, all the while imploring that the woman who needed help was “just back here.” Nick noted that he felt we were being watched, and by the time we reached the back of Hardware Town’s shopping area I already had my finger on the shotgun’s trigger, ready for what seemed like the inevitable. When the woman opened the final door leading into the large warehouse area in the back of the store, I immediately saw two guys with pipe rifles drawn, and Nick and I instinctively opened fire. The woman scrambled past the two guys, who fell quickly, and hid in an area near the back of the warehouse. Nick cautiously went down the left aisle that went almost all the way to the back wall, and I went down the right. Large shipping crates, appliances, giant barrels and packing materials lined the ceiling-high shelves, and whatever wasn’t on the shelves was scattered haphazardly in the aisles, creating perfect hiding spots. About halfway down, Nick stumbled upon the woman, and flushed her out to my aisle, where I had a clear shot at her.
As we searched the rest of Hardware Town for raiders, there was a horrible stench which got stronger the closer we got to the back of the store. A gruesome sight soon revealed itself beneath a collapsed floor next to one of the giant shelving units. Tossed into the crawl space below the collapsed area were a dozen or so partially decayed bodies, fully stripped nude. Looks like the crying wolf trick had been pretty successful for this group of raiders. Scouring the rest of the place, we found watches, clothes, and other personal artifacts – stuff obviously snagged from the victims. Elsewhere, there were power relay coils, solvents, and a bunch of other useful chemicals and instructional magazines that I knew would be useful to the folks back at the settlements. Since I didn’t think we’d be back this way for a while, we gathered the rarest and most valuable stuff, and set up a cache in the basement next to the rotting corpses, hoping they would be a pretty decent deterrent.
Not far away from the collapsed area was a paint mixing machine. Back at Diamond City, I had spoken briefly to an older gentleman named Abbot, who was responsible for maintaining the Wall. He had asked if perhaps in my travels I managed to find any paint, I could bring it back to him. Appearances were important, he said, and he wanted to make sure the Wall would be preserved for ages to come. Luckily for Abbot, and I suppose also for the citizens of Diamond City, there were still sealed cans of yellow and blue paint here. I combined a few cans in some empties, and put them in the mixer. I looked over at Nick, leaning against a brand new refrigerator, just staring at me across the uncomfortable silence that hung in the air as I waited for the machine to do its work. “I know,” I said. “But I’ve been told appearances are everything.”
“Yeah,” he answered? “Well it appears you might not be in any rush to find Kellogg, but maybe that’s just me?”
“I can do this alone,” I replied.
“Stop,” he said. “Just finish up and we’ll get going.”
I stashed the cans of green paint with the rest of the stuff, and Nick and I headed past some kitchen and bathroom displays in the front of the store, and out to the street, where we had left Dogmeat.
He soon led us to the railroad crossing, next to which was a small pond with a few shipping pallettes arranged in a line going out into the water to look almost like a dock would on a larger pond. On this makeshift dock was a wooden crate and a chair. A nice little resting spot. On top of the crate was an ashtray that Dogmeat was paying particular attention to, and sure enough, there was another San Francisco Sunlights cigar. Just as the thought entered my mind that this was way too easy, I happened to look up past the tracks and noticed a giant, lumbering reptile type monster pop out from behind a wrecked car. I had seen this motion before, back in Concord.
It was a Deathclaw, for sure, and it was meandering toward the tracks. Only a matter of time until it saw us, if it hadn’t already. I yelled over to Nick, and he just started firing at it. About ten yards away to my left, I noticed a Pulowski Preservation Shelter, a tall blue circular cylinder made of reinforced metal that was designed to protect whoever got there first from a nuclear blast. Surely it could protect someone from a Deathclaw, but the problem was, it was only large enough for one person. Nick had committed us, and Dogmeat was already charging toward it. The only option was to stand our ground and kill this thing. If only I had brought the Power Armor and mingun with me.
The Deathclaw actually ignored Nick and Dogmeat for some reason, and made a beeline for me. As soon as I realized I was going to feel those claws because there was no chance the monster was going to be dead before it reached me, I dove between some boulders next to the pond and started shooting at the thing from between them. The Deathclaw was relentless in trying to dig its way through them toward me. Even though I was effectively trapped, its claws were too big to get in the space between the boulders, so it started picking up rocks and debris and hurling them at me, and I started to take damage. All the while, Nick and Dogmeat continued their attack, and eventually the combined force of all three of us did the thing in. Too close. It seemed to be alone, and after carefully examining the horizon through the scope of my sniper rifle, we continued westward along the railroad line beneath a deep blue sky with large swiftly moving puffy clouds.
The tracks disappeared into the dirt at somewhat regular intervals, reappearing a hundred feet down the line or so as we walked, and then disappearing again. After traveling for a half mile or so, we reached some rusted out boxcars. Just past that, the tracks crossed the Mass Pike just before it led into the West End tunnel and under the city. This part of the Pike was lined with huge concrete walls, and the roadway funneled down and into the tunnel a half a mile northeast of our location, the large building at the tunnel’s mouth clearly visible in the distance.
Dogmeat took us down a concrete staircase leading from the tracks down onto the roadway, where we found car parts, tires, a couple partial big rigs, and a lot of other heavy debris. He crossed the road, and then stopped on the opposite side where another doorway led to some more stairs going up the other side and back onto the tracks. For some reason, he wasn’t letting us pass the doorway. When I tried to push past, he jumped up on me to keep me from getting through. Something was up. I looked around the general area, but didn’t see anything noteworthy, so for some reason I headed toward the tunnel entrance past the buses, burned out cars, and vegetation that had grown up in all the soil that had blown down into the roadway over the last two hundred years.
The area just before the tunnel was completely flooded, and reaching up out of the water was a raider’s camp, with a couple makeshift wooden shacks erected along the concrete wall, with ramps leading up to them and over the wall to the ground above. There didn’t seem to be anyone coming out to greet us, so I cautiously climbed up on the jersey barrier between the lanes so I wouldn’t get wet, and found my way over to the ramp leading up to the structures, expecting to gather some chems that might be useful down the road to sell or to use, if necessary. I soon discovered why there was no one here. When I got to the top floor of the wooden shack, there was an area open to the sky where the remains of a half dozen or so dead ghouls, along with a couple raiders lie rotting in the sun. It looked like it had been quite a battle.
Suddenly, some snaps of gunfire rang out from an area just next to the building that sat atop the tunnel entrance. A lone raider was using an old car as cover, and was taking shots at us. Nick ran toward him, using whatever cover he could find as he went, and I missed a couple shots at the guy with my sniper rifle before finally landing the one that took him down. It was time to get back to the mission.
We made our way back down the rickety wooden ramps and onto the Mass Pike, heading toward the staircase that would take us back up to the tracks. As we walked up the roadway, a storm slowly started moving in. The beautiful blue sky eventually gave way to some ominous, dark clouds, and the smell of rain was in the air. As we got to the doorway leading to the stairs on the opposite side of the Pike, hanging on a railing sticking out of the concrete, I noticed a piece of torn red clothing that I had somehow missed earlier. No wonder Dogmeat had stopped me from entering the stairwell. He took a sniff, and darted up and around the staircase and up to the other side of the tracks. A light rain was starting to fall now as we followed the tracks to the northeast, going around the city. If we followed them all the way, we’d end up back at Bedford Station. I started wondering if we were walking in reverse. Maybe we’d end up at Vault 111 and realize that we were at the beginning of the trail, where Shawn had been kidnapped, and not heading toward the end of it. Then I realized that would have been maybe ten years ago. Dogmeat was good, but no trail lasted ten years.
As the rain continued to fall, and as a light mist rolled in, the tracks turned straight north, with the Charles River running alongside them on our left. The brush was heavier in this area, and suddenly from our right, a bear-type thing with hair missing from everywhere but its back lunged at us from cover. A few shots brought it down quickly, but it scared the hell out of us. Nick said it was a Yao Guai, a type of mutated American Black Bear. “Best not to feed em,” he mused, and continued on toward a set of buildings emerging out of the mist just up the tracks. “Looks like a station up ahead.”
The waystation had been boarded up from the outside, but we found our way in from the small office above it. Inside was a dead settler and some supplies. Just past the station was a large steel-paneled building with a concrete stairwell inside leading down into a roadway tunnel running perpendicular to the tracks. Up the road we could just make out the iron framework archway of a bridge heading west over the Charles. With Dogmeat in the lead, we slowly started across, but smack dab in the middle was a jackknifed tractor-trailer. It looked like the perfect choke point for something sinister. Raiders perhaps? I stopped to take a look at my Pip Boy to see if I could make out where we might be headed. Based on our current location, it looked like we had walked right past a Vault without even noticing it. It was a couple miles back, about halfway now from where we were to the Mass Pike West Tunnel entrance, seemingly in that area of heavy brush where we had seen the Yao Guai. I wondered if I could find all the Vaults in the area using this thing if I could get close enough to them.
I looked up, and Dogmeat was at the tractor trailer now, barking madly. It wasn’t raiders, it was ghouls. Lots of ghouls. Nick and I rushed to help him, and once we had taken care of the lot of them, the path seemed clear to the other side. Ahead of us, more car remains, and a toppled big rig that had spilled its cargo of giant power turbines and barrels of radioactive waste told the story of some horrible event that had happened here.
The storm was starting to clear, and I noticed along the shore on this side of the bridge were little tree-lined riverside sitting areas with park benches. We took a small staircase to our left that led down to one area. On one park bench was a skeleton next to a blue baby carriage, and another skeleton wearing a dress was balanced precariously over the railing above the river. Nick took a seat on an empty bench farther away, and I sat next to the skeleton and just stared out over the water, trying to imagine where we might be headed. I was unfamiliar with this part of the Commonwealth.
A gentle breeze blew right at us, carrying the fresh but muddy smell of the Charles. I put my head back, looked up into the bare branches of the trees above, scanned the clearing sky, and just absorbed it all. I was still alive. Traveling with a synthetic detective and a dog, tracking a professional killer who had captured my son and murdered my wife in front of me.
For a moment, the breeze changed direction, now coming down the hill in back of the little park, and I seemed to hear a mechanic voice similar to the kind I had heard at the Robotics Disposal Facility. I couldn’t make out what it was saying, but it startled me, and I got to my feet quickly, and made toward the hill. Dogmeat was already ahead of me, running up a road that led under a gigantic highway overpass. He stopped just before it, and was sniffing at something on the bank. As Nick and I got closer, the robotic voice got louder. About half way between us and Dogmeat was a destroyed Protectron, along with a dead trader whose merchandise was spilled all over the roadway. Whoever killed him had just left it all.
At first, I thought the robotic voice might be coming from the Protectron, but the voice wasn’t quite as mechanical as the traditional Protectron voice pack. No, this voice had more inflection. It had softer edges, and it was coming from farther up the road. It kept repeating, “Alert, critical signs,” and when we reached the object, it was clear why it was saying this. Lying in front of us, propped up on a metal case on the side of the road, was a humanoid-type robot. Its torso was resting against the case, its head sitting on top, and its arms and legs were about a foot away, in the road. This robot was much more streamlined and slender than a Protectron. It looked like it might be able to walk around as easily as Valentine was walking. I managed to get it to tell me what had happened, at least a bit. It said it had been tracking a mercenary, and that “he killed us.”
The trader had most likely been ambushed recently, since no one had taken his stash of goods yet. This robot had me worried. It looked like it hadn’t just been shot, it had been torn apart. What could do this? What kind of mercenary was Kellogg? Did he have help?
Nick interrupted my train of thought and noted that Kellogg was probably close. The three of us continued up the hill, past the giant columns supporting the overpass. This wasn’t going to be anywhere near as easy as springing Valentine from Skinny Malone’s grasp. Malone was just a buffoon. Kellog? He was turning out to be a different story entirely.