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Reforged

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I woke up feeling cold and nearly frozen to the bone. There was humidity in the air and an automated voice informing about some system malfunction. My back felt stiff and the sensation of sitting up, like in parasomnia, was bizarre, to say the least. It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the brightness of the room and once I could see, the view stopped the track of all my thoughts.

I was stumped. I just sat in the pod for a good few minutes, trying to figure out what on earth was going on. That kind of view, several pods in a freezing, underground facility, and a bunch of pipes snaking around the machines was like a picture taken out of a  sci-fi movie. A realistic 4D movie without the obligatory glasses.

Once the initial shock passed, I decided to move my legs and stretch a little. My bones creaked as I stepped out of the pod. The floor was wet and dirty. I thanked my ancestors that I couldn’t smell things that well, as the disgusting appearance of the room must have also quite an odor.

Is this some practical joke? A new TV program to entertain mindless idiots? I looked around but couldn’t find any cameras unless they were very well hidden in all the nooks and crannies. I wondered if my parents were watching and having a laugh right now.

That’s the safe option which my brain provided because the alternative was unthinkable. Unfortunately, I was too skeptic to believe in anything that surrounded me and my numerous doubts only raised more questions. If this was a TV program intent on surprising the participant, shouldn’t I have signed some contract that ensured my safety? Why couldn’t I remember the transition between my bed and this place? Nothing made sense here.

I decided to be cautious and keep the doubt close to my heart. It should keep me sane and safe.

Obviously, I recognized my surrounding. As an avid gamer, I spent the last few hundred hours playing Fallout 4 and this place resembled it like a mirror reflection, bar the few minor details which the game couldn’t provide.

I stuck my nose to one of the pods and saw a well-preserved man in a blue suit, who was either asleep or frozen. I couldn’t tell the difference.

“Knock, knock” – I tapped the glass. Nothing happened.

‘Helooo?’, I called. He didn’t move. I didn’t want to check if that was an actor, a prop, or an actual dead person.

There was also the closed pod with Nora’s husband inside and I noticed, as I came closer, that there were speckles of blood on the floor. Should I open it? Leave it? It’s not like he’ll jump out and give his wife a sweet kiss on the cheek. He’s dead as a doornail.

I decided, just in case, to check the funny old computer for any survivors or information about them. No one survived. All the pods were non-functional and their inhabitant seemingly died from asphyxiation.

I was the last survivor.

...unless it’s a TV program. Then, I’m the main hero of a show and should put a smile on for the audience.

______________________________________

 

The point, in which the TV show theory became nonsense, was when I stepped up to a lab window to tap on the huge bug on the other side. It jumped away with a squeak and I nearly screamed with fright. I immediately felt embarrassed about my reaction. So much for courage.

“O, Kurwa”, I swore in Polish. “Kurwa, kuurrrwa, japierkurwadole…”.

Small flying bugs were bad enough. These monsters? They were as big as a chihuahua and could probably eat one for breakfast.

“Oookeeey….ok. Cool. Totally fine.”, I mumbled to myself, held on to the wall like a lifeline, and tried to calm my breathing. Time to find a weapon. Right now, anything would suffice, a chair, a pen, a pair of gigantic slippers. I looked around and found a police baton under the bench. I held it in front of me like a sword of legends.

“I’m gonna kill that motherfucker…”, I spoke with a newfound determination, which was still shaky.

Before venturing forth, I quickly scavenged the small office room for anything useful. I found a military bag and a bunch of papers and pens. Nothing substantial, but I won’t be picky.

A few corridors ahead, I heard the scuttle of my first enemy. I clenched my fist around the baton and waited behind the corner, like a scared tourist about to make their first bungee jump. I didn’t dare make a sound.

Is that what most women feel like when trying to kill a spider? Low risk, low reward but high anxiety?

The biggest problem was my apiphobia. As long as the bug didn’t look like a bee or a wasp, I shouldn’t run away screaming. I peeked into the corridor. The radroach scuttled back to the cafeteria. Without further thought, I ran straight at it, baton held high like a dagger and stabbed the fucker as hard as I could. The weapon went through its body, impaling it like a radioactive shishkebab. It squeaked its last breath.

Wasteland: 0/ Karolina: 1

Sliding down the wall, I let out a sigh of relief. I knew that there were more bugs in the vault, but I wanted to take a few seconds to take a breath of victory.

I grabbed anything I could from the cafeteria, filled the empty bottles with surprisingly clean water, and moved on. I had no idea what to do with all the junk, but I assume that the people above will know.

 

 

I crossed paths with a few more bugs, took a few wrong turns and found some medicine, which didn’t look anything like those in the game. Obviously.

There were stimpacks, sure, but also bandages, gauzes, plasters, and a bunch of small bottles with tablets and capsules of unknown origin. I had no idea how to apply a needle and prayed to god, that I won’t have to in the near future. I took them all anyway.

The last empty office room provided me with a gun. Loaded and ready to fire.

‘Ok, now how the fuck do I…. uh, great…’, I grumbled as I inspected the weapon. I never learned how to shoot. My shoulders slumped as I slapped myself mentally for never joining Dad in a shooting lesson. A pacifist won’t survive too long in the wasteland.

Wasteland: 1/ Karolina: 1

‘Keep it cool, you pussy.’ I mumbled again.

I never talk to myself unless I’m very nervous or having a shower alone at home. It seems I’ll have to learn how to shoot anyway.

...five minutes later, my fingers were hurting from the amount of pressing and pulling I had to do, to load and unload a handgun. The safety stop was easy to figure out. After a moment of consideration, I thought that shooting in a metal underground with a high chance of ricochet was a dumb idea. I’m going to use a police baton instead.

I hid the gun in a holster and prepared to fight a bunch of slippery bugs in the next corridor.

‘Gods? You there? Wish me luck.’, I said in a hushed tone. No one answered back, but then the gods never did. Just a good luck thing.

____________________________________________________

 

There where so many bugs that I got almost overwhelmed by them, but each strike with a baton diminished their numbers. Some were smaller and some larger. None survived, however, when I stomped or jumped on their oval bodies as they cracked like a packet of crisps. It was both satisfying and disgusting.

Finally, after all the wandering, searching and fighting, I managed to reach the main entrance to the vault. It was humongous! At least three levels high!

I took the pip-boy and cleaned it up with my thumb. As soon as I put it on, the screen activated itself and glowed in neon green colour. It had different features than in the game but all of them could help me survive in the near future. There was a map, a radio, a list of items and it seemed that the screen acted as a scanner, because it blipped once and showed my current status. Radiation levels as well as a heartbeat. No health bar, though. I also found an option to create new folders and a place to make notes. Most of the things on my person were scanned in a matter of seconds. I could see my handgun and how much ammo I had! Incredible!

I switched the pip-boy off for now and pulled out its short cable to open the vault. The racket it made could wake the dead in a 10-mile radius. I covered my ears and stepped back as the machinery screeched loudly. Everything was so old, that the tension between the metal parts produced an equivalent of Christmas sparklers.

At last, the vault was open, and I stepped onto the platform to reach the world above.

My heart was pumping like crazy and I was sweating nervously, praying for a safe first welcome.

 

 

The first difference I noticed, between the game and the real Fallout world, was the trees. Most of them were dead but some had sprouted dark brown leaves. The land resembled an old man’s receding hairline, with a bunch of tufts here and there. The green colour remained, only a few shades darker.

The air smelled of acid and humidity. Some birds flew above my head and I noticed they were crows. Somewhat oily but mostly the same.

‘Holy fuck’, I said, as I watched the world before me. There was no TV program. No parents to console me, no siblings to hug. The reality has finally hit me like a ton of bricks, but the walls around my mind were strong enough to turn it into a slowly breaking dam and prevent me from a total mental breakdown.

I was all alone here. No friends, family, not even my kinsmen who understood all the Polish behaviour, the jokes, the songs. The food and drinks, the political struggles we had, the culture we preserved. It was all gone. This was a post-apocalyptic America. As foreign to me, as China was to them, before the war.

I stood there, on top of the platform, grabbing the rest of my wits and trying my hardest to get a grip and move my feet. There were things to be done. Places to see and people to meet.

I turned my gaze to the right of me and wondered if Deacon was watching me right now. Was he sitting there in his chair, sipping purified water in his little hiding spot and spying for the Railroad? I could just walk up and meet him, but what would I say?

“Hi, I’m new here. Do you have a Geiger counter? Cool. Now let’s talk shop.”

...nah. There will be time for that. As much as I would love to see a familiar face, even if it’s fictional, it would only lead to confusion and distrust. Besides, I had to learn how to survive first on my own.

It was time to go.

I scavenged the area, found some grenades (which I didn’t dare touch at first) and more bottles, and then descended into the Sanctuary Hills.

 

 

‘As I live and breathe! Mrs. Karolina! It’s…it’s really you!’, the robot exclaimed the moment he saw me. If he could, he would jump me like a tree with a fierce hug.

The fact that he knew my name answered some questions I had, while in the vault. The Slavic pronunciation was quite surprising, though.

‘How do you know my name?’, I asked before I could bite my tongue. I still wasn’t sure it was wise to reveal that I didn’t belong here. My brain reeled from the fact that Fallout world wasn’t a fantasy anymore and it didn’t help in calming me down.

Codsworth whirred in the air and his eye sockets moved up and down in a confused manner.

‘Of course, I know your name! I am one of the finest Mr. Handies you’ve bought to serve at your house, almost 200 years ago. Don’t you remember? Perhaps you’re suffering from severe dehydration, please, let me find some water to quench your thirst…’

I gaped for a few seconds, realising after a moment that the robot thought I was his mistress. Which meant, that in some unexplained way I took her place. How? That’s ridiculous!

‘Look, buddy, I have no idea what you’re talking about…but I won’t say no to some nice freshwater if you have any.’ I said as I followed him inside the ruined house. I stepped through the open doorway.

The inside looked like a result of a failed bomb experiment. The walls had black smudges of dirt, the furniture looked torn and worn and the floor was littered with a hundred papers, bricks and broken glass. Chairs were broken, a table upturned, and the roof? It had holes in three different places.

I carefully walked around, trying not to step on anything sharp. Codsworth came back from the main hallway, holding a white tin can.

‘Here you are! Best preserved water in the commonwealth! Bottoms up!’

I took it and opened the lid, raising the can in a “cheers” gesture. The water was indeed fresh. I never liked it, because it always felt tasteless, but this can make me more relaxed than I had been since the beginning of this entire adventure.

‘Thanks buddy. I needed that.’ I drank the whole can. Codsworth seemed really happy to have helped. He hovered like a robot nanny, ready to cater to all my needs, as much as he was capable. I thought here for a second – was it just his programming or did he really liked serving? Was it like having a purpose in life, doing what you’re good at? I wonder what it’s like, to have such certainty…

The robot grabbed the empty can and threw it in a dumpster, outside the house.

‘Now that you’ve had your drink perhaps, I could offer something to eat.  A nice dinner would do wonders to your health and mood, don’t you think?’ he said.

I blinked. His behaviour seemed a little strange every time he spoke.

‘Um, look. I’d love to sit and relax but I must be sure I…uh…you know. Learn how to survive in this wasteland? Train up a bit, gain muscles and ace in shooting, that sort of thing…’

‘Oh, but of course Mum! You can’t go unarmed these days, not when radiation has produced so many pests! Perhaps sir could give you some shooting lesson, he was in the army after all, right? Where is he, by the way?’

He said the last part, looking around as if Nate would just walk by from around any corner.

I refused to meet his gaze. How do I even offer condolences to a robot? What words do I say, what do I do? There was a mess in my head and my mouth opened and closed a few times like a fish out of water.

‘Uuuh…’

Codsworth was waiting for an answer. Very patiently.

‘He…’

More waiting.

‘Look, it’s difficult to say out loud. If you were human, I’d offer you a drink and a chair but…’

‘Is something wrong, Mum?’ he asked softly. One of his pincers found my shoulder and gave it a small pat-pat. ‘You’re not acting like yourself. Did something happen?’

I made a groan of frustration and bent back, covering face with my hands. I just didn’t want to upset a robot with a dangerous-looking pincer and a saw-hand. What do I do?

‘He’s dead’ I said.

There we go, as simple as that. Way to go, you paragon of empathy!

Codsworth reacted just as I thought he would. He whimpered and gasped in an exaggerated manner and then put his pincers on his head like a human would if they had a face.

‘No! Not sir!’ he cried. ‘Oh! The…the things you’re saying…they’re…!’

‘I know, buddy. I’m really sorry.’ I grabbed his “hands” and held them caringly like I would a human being. ‘He was murdered by terrible men who also took Shaun. But listen! I promise that I’ll find those monsters and find out what happened to Shaun, all right? I promise!’

It was a white lie. I couldn’t say what I knew because of a possibility, that things actually were different or I landed in an alternative universe. Don’t take things for granted, my friend once said. Shaun could be a grown man and director of the institute. Or he could be dead somewhere. Or perhaps he’d run away from the Big Robotic Baddy and started a revolution, maybe even joined the Railroad, who knows?

Right now, Codsworth’s feelings were more important.

‘Oh, Mum…perhaps.../sob/…perhaps we could search the neighborhood and look for them? Maybe…maybe find some clues?’ he asked mournfully. I shook my head.

‘I highly doubt they’re anywhere near here. You would have seen them, right Cods?’

‘Y-you’re right, Mum. It’s just… all these years waiting for you, trying to keep our house in a pristine condition, which let me tell you is an impossible task, it just…’ He took a deep breath ‘I was so lonely here, with no one to talk to, no one to serve! It’s been absolutely terrible!’

My heart clenched in response.

‘I’m here now, Cods. You won’t be alone anymore. Besides, someone has to show me around and teach me the basics of survival, right? I-if you can, of course.’ I finished doubtfully.

Codsworth “wiped his robotic tears” off and somehow straightened up. My words must have given him some comfort because he offered his pincers like a gentleman and then pointed outside the house.

‘Of course, Mum! Shall we?’

 

DAY 1

 

I found out that Codsworth is incapable of enjoying silence but I figured I’d also act like a chatterbox if I were faced with near isolation for 200 years. I let him talk but listened with only one ear, while repairing a bed frame. He informed me of the possible effect of radiation on these lands and what to look out for. We killed some roaches and bloodbugs and had them for dinner. My shooting is terrible and I’m sure I’m not standing correctly or even holding the gun in the right way. All I can do is try my best and work hard to establish some sort of safe point in Sanctuary Hills.

The water pump still works. I scouted the other houses for useful junk, but I wasn’t a genius by any means.

Learning how to pick a lock was certainly fun.

 

DAY 2

 

I scouted the outer parts of the neighbourhood and found an underground bunker, a pair of wasteland clothes, and a strange wooden pistol. Codsworth instructed me on how to modify it. He couldn’t do much with his pincers, but he was an excellent teacher and explained things very clearly.

I finally build my first bed and learned how to cook and hunt for food. Mostly wild purple fruit, some carrots, and gourd as well as more flying bugs. Now THAT was scary as hell. I swore as I missed half of my shots while speeding back to Sanctuary. Cods helped me finish them off by using his deadly pincers. Thank god for that robot. He was a blessing in disguise.

 

DAY 7

 

I found more ammo to shoot and managed to become more accurate during my practice. Scouted further away and found out there was indeed a beginning of a highway, which probably led to that lovely Rocket petrol station. It seemed to be only a few minutes away. I decided to scout a little further ahead, once my shooting skills weren’t so miserable. I swear to Gods, If only I had a sniper shotgun with a sweet silencer. Unf! The carnage I’d lay on the wasteland creatures would be music to my ears.

Then there were bad days when the amount of workload I had made me cry in the corner of the bunker and weep over the loss of all I’ve known. To lift my spirits I found a nice red dress and a white shirt. Then, sewed a flag of Poland and hung it on the sharp edges of my roof. Codsworth had mentioned once in a conversation that I was born in Poland before the war.

“You mean I wasn’t born here? In the USA?” I asked, feeling mighty uncomfortable at the number of parallels between me and Nora. I didn’t care much about her. Let the past stay where it belongs.

“No, no, ma’am! Of course not! How else would I know how to prepare your favourite pierogi?”

I snorted at that. Slavic words always sounded funny when spoken in an English accent.

 

DAY 15

It was time to go. I looked back at the Sanctuary Hills and felt pride deep in my heart. It was impossible to renovate this place without some extra hands at work, but at least one house looked functional enough to live in it. I made a bed, covered up a few holes in the walls and successfully planted some vegetables. Damn good work for a survivor noob.

 Codsworth hoovered nearby, slightly anxious.

“Mum, are you sure going out there is the best idea? It might be wiser to stay just a little longer…”

“I know buddy, but life isn’t going to wait for me. Besides, I’m just gonna explore the Rocket Station and maybe make a shelter there.” I comforted him. He didn’t look too convinced. I clapped his pincer in one hand. “Hey, look. I’m gonna be all right. If things get bad I’ll just run back home, eh?”. He nodded.

“Please be careful, Mum. I’d be devastated if anything happened to you!” I smiled and hugged his robotic frame. Some part of me already felt homesick at the thought of leaving Codsworth behind me, but as I said, time was running by. If I didn’t explore this world, who knows how long I’ll survive without knowledge and experience? After all, games weren’t so different from real life.

Explore, survive and level up.

 

It wasn’t long before my legs brought me to the famed Red Rocket petrol station. It looked like part of a ghost town, dilapidated and ruined. My memory of the Fallout game had begun to waver after a while but I managed to make important notes on any events I could remember and put them in my pip-boy as well as the home computer in Sanctuary Hills. If I recall correctly, there should be a happy dog at my destination. However, there was none. No woofs or barks to greet me. Huh.

 

I wasn’t entirely surprised. I knew some elements would differ from the game and perhaps this is one of them. As I stepped through the piles of garbage at the front, I held my wooden gun up getting ready to shoot anything that moves. I stepped forward.

The main entrance to the Petrol station seemed locked and I couldn’t see well, even through a cracked window. I slid next to the door and listened closely.

Silence. Silence.Silecnesilencesilence….nothing…not a word or a whisper or even a soft tapping of someone’s feet. I heard the quiet chirping of insects in the nearby bushes and a distant buzz of bloodbugs, too far away to notice my presence. There was nothing here.

I have learned to get used to the fact, that there was no change of a soundtrack when enemies appeared. Obviously. Nonetheless, this silence only magnified my attentiveness. I looked around, watching every corner, gun held high. Thus, I continued.

Slowly, I opened the door.

The first thing I noticed was how clean the shop was. I mean, sure, there were papers and dust and all kind of minuscule garbage lying around, but it lacked the impression of an abandoned place. Someone has been here not long ago.

I gripped my gun a little harder. I also tried to breathe easier but the prospect of meeting a stronger enemy or whatever this wasteland will throw at me, quite honestly, pumped up my adrenaline levels. I remembered Codsowrth’s advice to relax and concentrate on one thing at a time.

A sound resonated in silence like a loud grenade in a vacuum. I heard footsteps. Small, quiet but I heard them nonetheless. Someone was here now.

I counted to three and jumped out of my cover, aiming at a small creature, and thankfully stopped my hands from pulling the trigger. It would have been a disaster, because the mysterious creature turned out to be a half-starved child in dirty rags. The very second I barged inside, it squealed in fright and rushed into a different room to hide from me. Faster than any child I’ve known.

‘…oh’

I put my gun down. A child? Here? I thought this place was going to be empty. Does that mean someone already lives here?

Walking through the threshold, I surveyed the area and noticed the usual counter with a broken cash register and some moldy magazines. There was the door to a garage and behind the counter stood some cabinets and shelves. However, there were two doors, instead of one, as in the game. I assumed one lead to the empty office and the other was a mystery. The child left it slightly open, as it hid inside.

“Hey, kid. It’s ok sweetie, I won’t hurt you!”, I called out to her. No response. I heard some rustling and a sound of falling bottles coming from her hiding spot so I decided to take a look. I put my gun down and gently opened the half-eaten door.

The mystery room turned out to be a storage place for all kind of nick-knacks. Books, papers, furniture, more cabinets in a neat row by the wall, unwashed clothes and toys, tons of paper boxes which now made a child’s fort. This was clearly its territory. I haven’t noticed anyone else at the station. The garage had one bed, but it was thrown haphazardly on a heap of junk.

First thing that came to my mind was: where were her parents? Did they die? Or worse, abandon her? Considering the lack of humanity in the apocalyptic world of Fallout, I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case.

The kid has hidden itself under the mountain of boxes and refused to come out, thinking probably that it was enough to fool me. Well, I used to work with kids before and I grew up with a younger sister so I had some understanding of a child’s psyche. If she didn’t want to be bothered, then I won’t do that. I walked out of the room, pretending I never found the kid.

I had to make a shelter here. Something that would keep me safe while I travelled between places, where I could sleep, eat and wash if I were lucky. Unfortunately, the washroom was absolutely wrecked and someone pulled out the sinks and toilets, leaving only dried pipes sticking out of the ground. So, no water until I fix the problem.

Well, the junk in here isn’t used by anyone…so…

Three hour later I had a functional tap. The water was so dirty, it had to be pumped out for fifteen minutes before it turned somewhat clear. I remembered Codsworth’s warning about drinking impurified version, so I didn’t.

While I worked my ass off, I swear I could hear a soft pitter-patter of little feet behind the corner of the station (the water tap was outside at the back). I never caught the sight of the kid, but I knew it was watching me. I didn’t feel the need to chase after it, so I just let it watch and observe my work. Time will tell, if it want’s to come out. Besides, I had a better plan.

To my pleasant surprise, there was a small kitchen cooker with rusty pots and pans. I found some wood and spent the next twenty minutes trying to start a fire underneath the cooker. The appliance resembled some of the old stoves I saw in countryside with a firebox under metal plates, although they were made of stone and clay rather than metal back then. …I think. I’m no expert here.

By the time I assembled a humble dinner made of vegetable soup, the aroma wafted in the air, sending a clear message to anyone, that this place was taken. I also hoped to lure the kid out of its toy-cave for a bowl of broth.

Two hours later, I ate the soup with gusto. Before landing here, I would have never touch cooked vegetables. Now, they were a delicacy. Unsalted, but still edible.

Pat, pat, pat….pat, pat…

I heard the tiny footsteps, just as I predicted. I was sitting on a wooden crate when I saw a mop of wild blond hair behind the station's right corner.

“Mmm! Yummy!” I smacked my lips. “You want some?”

No response. That’s all right, I didn’t expect the kid to rush forward like a hungry wolf. It’s behaviour already told me it had a rough history with trusting adults and I wasn’t going to jeopardize that with pushing too far. I put a smaller bowl with a spoon on another wooden crate some distance away from me. Then I sat back down to finish my meal.

I couldn’t see the kid in detail, they were too far away. I did notice, however, their reluctance to show themselves, as if their appearance was going to trigger an aggressive response.

“Better eat it soon, before it gets cold! It’s really good!”  I encouraged.

Then, it took one step forward. Two steps. And finally I saw why it was hiding so much.

It was a little ghoul.

For a short moment, I stopped eating in fear of choking on my spoon. I was stunned.

She wasn’t entirely ghoulified yet. Her arms and legs had smooth pieces of skin but they were few and far in between. She looked like a mini zombie with her lack of nose and wrinkled, burned-like face but the lovely tufts of blonde hair softened her garish appearance. She held her dirty plush bear with the left hand and clenched the trim of her ragged blue dress in the other.

We watched each other, waiting for bombs to drop.

After my initial shock, I ate the soup again. I made no indication that her looks bothered me at all and even motioned for her to take a seat by the crate.

She hesitated. There was a clear caution on her dark eyes as she stepped from foot to foot. Wariness, uncertainty. Can I trust her? they said. Will she shoot me as soon as I come closer?

I thought, perhaps, that I should put my gun away but the moment my hand touched the holster, she bolted quickly behind the corner. Clearly, it wasn’t the first time.

I knew that in this universe, ghouls were considered less than humans, a shoot-on-sight easy prey but the thought of anyone hurting this little girl made my blood boil. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fucking right.

We played the game of trust a few times until the kid had finally sat down and tasted my cooking attempt. She licked the spoon like it was covered in honey. I grinned.

“See? Not bad, eh?”

She nodded. Ah, the silent talk then. We can do that.

“Do you like it?”, I asked. She nodded again. I approved her enthusiasm and finished my own bowl.

 

I thought about this encounter and tried to put it in a bigger picture. Asking myself questions I couldn’t answer. Why was the girl here and what was her purpose? Did she even have one? Am I supposed to take care of her now? What about the institute, should I even care about the machinations of a totalitarian scientist cult? God, the questions just kept coming.

I asked the little one if she had any shoes because I saw her running through a sea of dirt bare-foot. It hurt in the same way a picture of someone’s broken bones hurt your soul. She shook her head.

I asked if she had any leather in that pile of junk. She looked confused, so I pointed at a part of my armour and said “See this? That’s leather, like a tough skin of an animal.” Something must have clicked, because she dove into her small kingdom and not a second later, returned carrying piles of nicely tanned mole rat leather. I thought it looked fresh. Again, no expert in this area either.

“Where did you find it?”, I asked suspiciously. She pointed at her room.

“Was it always there?”. She nodded. Suspicious indeed. “I don’t know when you came here, but did anyone else live here before you? Did you see signs of someone living here?”.

At that, she scrunched her cute, non-existent nose and furrowed her brows in deep contemplation but I already knew the answer. Small kids had a short attention span and just as short memory. No way she remembered.

“It’s all right sweetie, it doesn’t matter anyway.” I waved a hand at that. The little ghoul looked really annoyed. Being deprived of a challenge was apparently a big no-no.

I took the rest of the day to create shoes. As a reminder, I used to work as a teacher and do crochet as a free time hobby.  I had no idea how to make shoes or even basic sandals so I followed the most logical solutions I could find.

Measure her feet, cut the materials several times, put metal between the layers, cut multiple holes in them, sew everything. Use tape if needed. Fuck up and try again. Pray to the Lord for patience. Try again.

After two failed rounds of putting those shoes together and learning from my mistakes, the shoes were done. They were no different than a pair of sack shoes but with harder soles. Walking on hard surfaces should be easier now.

The girl would come and go while I worked, just to watch me but I could see she was secretly excited about the prospect of having something that belonged only to her. She didn’t ask questions or say anything to me. Just watched.

I finished the shoes just as the day was dawning and I emerged from the workshop completely exhausted but satisfied. I hope they’d fit.

“Hey kid! I got something for you!”, I called her. I also wondered if she had a name. I should ask her.

I found the girl at the front of the station, between the broken cars. She was placing cans and bottles all around the place and some of them were connected with strings. She even threw little ball bearings near our front door. Damn, I was actually proud of her cleverness.

“That’s really smart, sweetpea. Your idea?”. She nodded. Her parsed lips lifted in a shy smile.

“Well, evening’s comin’. Time to sleep.” I said as if it was the most natural thing to do. I wasn’t her mother or her caretaker and yet, I did all those things for her.

I watched the darkness creeping into the lands around us, and I thought, If anyone were to get a jump on us, we’d be long dead. So no, I wasn’t turning into a mother hen, thank the gods. It’s just survival instincts kicking in.

I was so tired, that I didn’t even have the time to pull the bed frame from the junk pile. Just a mattress and a pillow. That’s it.

We walked into the garage, a little girl in tow and I presented her with her new shoes. She looked at me quizzically.

“They’re for you. Try them on and tell me if they’re too tight or too loose.”

They fit. She tied the strings around her thin ankles and then jumped up and down a few times for good measure. Then, she gave me the sweetest smile and ran away to play without a single thank you.

“Hey, hey!” I called her. My teacher's habits were coming out. She turned around. “What do we say when you get a gift?”

There was a long pause, but I didn’t mind. I was patient. Later, I asked myself why do I even bother teaching a wasteland kid about manners, when no one had them here in the first place.

“Thank you.”, she muttered quietly. I nodded in silent approval.

“What’s your name?”, I asked.

Her raised eyebrows gave me the answer. I sighed. “What do I call you then?”

Another long pause. She looked around as if the answer was hanged on a wall somewhere. I realised she actually WAS looking for an answer on the hanging posters. Didn’t she have a name? What the fuck?

“Lucy.”, she announced. I saw her looking at a Nuka-Cola add depicting a pretty lady in a sponsored astronaut suit, drinking the black beverage. There was no name and I doubted she could read, but apparently the lady looked like a “lucy” to her. Fine, why not?

“Good night, Lucy.”, I said. She beamed and went back to her room.

We both went to bed.

I snuggled into my sleeping bag after triple checking all the doors and windows. The night swooped down on us and covered the small hills and each portion of grey asphalt road, transforming them into the world of darkness. Although I was surrounded by concrete walls, the sounds of wildlife made it seem like there was a jungle. And the only thing protecting me was thin metal and bottle traps. The day was quiet and the night was a cacophony of sounds. I could hear everything.

The quiet clanking of cans in her playroom.

The moaning of evening breeze, blowing through the trees and rustling their leaves on the wind.

The loud chirping of crickets and tweeting of strange birds. The crows flew by.

The constant fear of said crickets being radioactive monsters, bashing through our doors and eating us alive.

Once, for but a short moment I heard such a terrible shriek, that I jumped out of bed with my gun drawn but as the noise repeated itself, I recognized the source. Foxes. Bloody foxes and their bloody mating season.

It reminded me that I wouldn’t have known that fact if not for Hozier’s song “In the woods somewhere”, which piqued my curiosity. That’s how I found out that Foxes always sound like women getting stabbed in a horror movie.

Then I wondered about other creatures. How did radiation change them? How many were changed? It seemed that the mutation touched only a selected number of species, for example, crows were unchanged. Caterpillars were just as small, only more colourful. I even found a few hedgehogs in the bushes with their spikes the same as always.

All of those questions lulled me to sleep. I kept the gun near my bed, just in case.

______________________________________________________________________________

 

Another morning. New day, more stuff to do to survive this wasteland.

Fortunately, mending and upgrading my guns has become my new hobby, the novelty still hasn’t worn off. I looked at my poor pistol and wondered If the garage had more ammo.

Apparently, it did. I showed Lucy what I needed and she brought me at least two packs of bullets. There was even a fresh pack of shotgun shells! I could sell those later.

I ate, drank and washed after boiling the water first. The gun was always in my sight. A habit I trained myself to have.

I thought about exploring more but then I also remembered, that just behind the Rocket Station at the bottom of the hillside was supposedly a nest of mole rats. I didn’t meet any yesterday, although their tunnels should probably run just beneath the station. Perhaps they were less sensitive to movement, than in the game? Who knows?

One thing was certain if I wanted to make a permanent shelter here, I had to exterminate those pests.

I strapped some shoulder pads and other protection I found at the station. Then, I grabbed my favourite gun and wondered how to install a visor. Maybe I should paint little dots to improve my accuracy? I had no idea. Codsworth only taught me the basics. Perhaps there are blueprints around or I could ask other people.

I opened the door and was about to leave when Lucy run up to me. She seemed happier today.

“Where are you goin’?”

I patted my ammo bags and showed the gun. “ Just some hunting, sweetie. I’ll be back quite soon.”

She nodded and skipped inside. Her Teddy bear was dangling left and right with the way she hold him.

 

That day the weather was rather dry and sunny. The rain poured only one time since I got here, which was great, cause my vegetable patch needed it.

I crept up slowly, keeping my eyes wide open. My hearing was never good enough so I tried to rely more on sight…which wasn’t that good either. Strangely, I woke up in the pod with neither my glasses or a need to have a pair. Even so, the fact remained that all my senses were dulled by a lifetime of luxury and comfort of a civilized city dweller. A life of loud cars, exhaust fumes and people who smoked regularly in my presence. Thank the gods I didn’t get lung cancer.

After making a few steps downhill, I noticed strange markings on the ground, triple indentations and scratches made by a dog-sized creature. I had no idea how old they were.

Mole rats. Had to be.

My sense of smell, which was practically non-existent, didn’t pick up anything but my eyes did, thankfully. Otherwise, I’d had my shoes deep in mole rat feces. Once I stepped around, I could sense the acidic smell of urine. I was getting closer.

The nest seemed medium-sized in the game. However, the burrow I saw here was way too small for me to crawl in. Not that I’d want to. Lucy could probably fit in here but I immediately put the thought in the trash can, as it was utterly ridiculous.

It was quiet. Too quiet.

I couldn’t hear anything from the nest at this distance and I was too scared to come any closer. How many mole rats could fit in there? Five or six?

There was no point in standing like an idiot so I lifted the gun in front of me and very carefully sneaked forward, ready to bolt at a moment’s notice.

I wasn’t ready. I was beginning to sweat. Hands shook a little.

I wasn’t ready. Only ten meters to the entrance.

I was not ready. Five meters.

Not ready. Two meters.

I looked inside and held my breath. Silence. No movement.

God, I was so not ready. But I did it anyway. I picked up a rock and with all ignoring the stutter of my heart, I threw the rock into the nest.

Something moved. “Kurwa”, I thought repeatedly in my head. “Kurwa, kurwa, kurwa…”. I heard a squeak and a chirp and thanks to the fluorescent mushrooms growing near the burrow, I could see even more movement. “Ojapierdole…”.

When I saw the first glimpse of hairless skin in the shadow, I fired. The mole rat cried out and dropped dead. Perfect shot.

I had no time to feel victorious or even think about my next move because another angry mole jumped out of the nest, and with teeth bared, it aimed at my face. I didn’t even have time to scream.

My instinct kicked in and I defended myself by raising an arm to stop the attack. The mole rat sank its teeth in the metal pads on my armour. I briefly thanked Codsworth in my head for his valuable advice on upgrading armour, ‘cause without I’d have probably lot an arm today. The beast snarled and wriggled like a giant ferret and it gave me enough time to push my feet and kick it off at least a few meters away. I retreated back to the rocket station as fast as my legs could take me. These things were too fast. Faster than me. I needed higher ground to shoot them off.

Unfortunately, I didn’t predict how fast those creatures actually were. Or how many.

I looked behind and saw two more bastards run after me. Holy shit.

I ran faster than ever and didn’t even think of shooting them as it would take away my precious seconds to escape. One of them suddenly dropped to the ground and started burrowing with a speed I only saw in sci-fi movies. Oh, hell no. I knew what was coming.

The very moment I felt the ground part beneath my feet, I jumped away and thank the gods, ‘cause the next thing I know, there’s a loud “snap” as the mole tried to eat my leg. It missed by a hair’s length.

The rocket station was coming nearer but also not near enough. I was losing my stamina and they were gaining on me. Had to think fast. Something high and safe.

I thought about a good climbing spot in my sight and the only thing that came close to it was the broken telephone booths. One of them had a broken roof, so I’d only have to get up on the machinery to get on top.

No way I was climbing a tree.

The moment where I wanted to climb up, however, was also a perfect opportunity for one of the mole rats to catch up eat me. My hand gripped the gun and fired where I thought the creature would appear. Bang! Squeak!

Two down, two more to go.

By this time the adrenaline in my veins gave me enough strength to pull myself up, get on the top of the phone box and sit down. The moment I left the ground, I was surrounded by snarling radioactive rats, standing on their hind legs to try and reach me. I tried my luck and shot. Bang! Missed.

They moved too fast. I tried again, trying to aim better. Bang! Squeak! Snarl!

I got its leg. It was bleeding now and lost some of that murderous energy. I shot one more time.

Bang! Squeak!

Another dead rat.

The last mole rat stopped snarling and growling all together. It sniffed it’s dead brother, hesitating on its next step.

“Want some more, fucker?!”, I growled.

The rat looked at me, and then dropped to the ground to scutter away. I, however, didn’t want to worry about some pests right underneath my new shelter. Feeling invigorated by my recent kills, I jumped of the elevation and shot the stupid rat.

Missed.

It turned around and seeing an easy target, it charged at me with all the ferocity of a wild beast. When it got close, I shot again.

“Click, click”. The gun was empty. Fuck. I only had a second to look surprised and foolish, before the rat grabbed my leg with its teeth and bit me. Really hard.

 

Remember how beavers are capable of chopping down trees with their own teeth?

Yeah. That.

I howled in pain and fell down as the creature chomped right through my leather armour. No shinpad on the left leg meant zero protection. Its teeth sunk in like butter. No resistance.

I quickly pulled out a short knife with great difficulty. If I didn’t act fast, I might as well kiss my leg bye bye, but the pain was so overwhelming and constant that I could barely think straight. I unsheathed the knife and stabbed the rat in its head, pushing the blade deep with both hands.

For a second, I thought that the extra pressure will make the beast snap my leg in half. It didn’t.

What a relief.

I wanted to lie down and cry and howl and grab the dirt to throw it at the stupid nest.

No time. No, I have to…ngh…pull its teeth out.

Fuck. It hurts so much. Now it hurts and I could already feel the adrenaline flow away and I couldn’t let that happen.

I bend down and opened the rat's maw. It was harder than I thought. The bastard had a powerful jaw and it clamped on my leg like a locked hatch. Fuck.

I tried again and screamed loudly, but I had to get it out. Finally, I broke its bones and the damn teeth were out. Holy shit. I was bleeding. I couldn’t stand up. Every movement I made sent my nerves into a wave of pain I haven’t felt since the day I had my wisdom tooth removed. No, it was worse.

I have to move. If I can’t stand up, then I had to at least stop the bleeding. Fuck. There was nothing.

That’s it? I’m gonna die here and leave Lucy alone again? Because I’m apparently a fucking idiot who can’t differentiate between a video game and real life.

Great.

No, ‘cmon. It’s not over until you do everything you can. Get a grip on yourself girl, stop being such a pussy. Look around, what do you see? Nothing. Wait, your shirt. You could use that. Let’s do it.

I unstrapped my armour, took off my only shirt, and while screaming through my teeth, I tightened it around the bite wound. Before I finished, the shirt was already soaked. I hoped it was enough. It had to be.

I heard lucy running toward me and then nothing. Like switching off tv. I passed out.