I woke up to the smell of incense, and per­fume and...Instamash? Well, if I wasn’t hun­gry before, I cer­tain­ly wasn't then.

I laid there with my eyes closed a moment mak­ing sure all my body parts were account­ed for. My head hurt. Every­thing hurt. I took that as a sign that I was still alive. I men­tal­ly braced myself and opened my eyes.

I was on a bed in a small room, with one of those damn mem­o­ry loungers at the foot of it. I stared at it hazi­ly for a moment. I won­dered how they'd got­ten it in there. The physics weren't mak­ing sense (seri­ous­ly, the log­i­cal way would have been to take it apart and rebuild it in the room, but they said they weren't sure how to do that. So...did they have to remove the whole door jamb? Did they build the wall around it?) when a voice said,

"Ah, hey, you’re awake. I was begin­ning to wor­ry about ya."

I looked over to see a ghoul sit­ting at a chair across from me, watch­ing me. He was wear­ing a tril­by hat, which final­ly con­firms a long-held the­o­ry: it doesn't mat­ter what kind of face is under a tril­by hat, they all look equal­ly ridiculous.

"What hap­pened?" I asked, sit­ting up slow­ly. My mouth felt like I’d eat­en a couch cushion.

"Well, Dr. Amari could explain it better'n me, but basi­cal­ly you went into mnemon­ic shock from your trip in the Mem­o­ry Lounger. Hap­pens when you relive a bad mem­o­ry. Your body goes through the whole fight or flight response all over. Looks like you had a doozy."

"Oh... Is that all... Yeah, it was the doozy to end all doozies."

"Mmm. Sor­ry to hear that. Sounds like the last dream you had wasn’t so bad, though. Who’s Nora?"

Heh... I'd been dream­ing about the day I pro­posed to her. A good mem­o­ry for an oth­er­wise bit­ter­sweet occa­sion. I've known for a long time that most of my mem­o­ries with Nora run that way: good times with a heart­break­ing “good­bye” always loom­ing over it. I still don’t know why she stayed with me as long as she did. I gave up try­ing to fig­ure that out a long time ago and just decid­ed to cel­e­brate it when we could. And we def­i­nite­ly knew how to celebrate.

"Er... Did I do any­thing embar­rass­ing I should apol­o­gize for?" I asked.

He chuck­led. "Nah, man. Noth­ing like that."

"Then none of your damn busi­ness," I grinned at him.

He laughed. "Fair enough."

He told me his name was Kent Con­nol­ly and that he’d let me crash in his room after they'd pumped me full of enough Calm‑X to put down a Yao Guai. I’d been out for about sev­en hours. Codsworth came look­ing for me, but Irma wouldn’t allow him to hang around. Kent said she’s afraid robots scram­ble the del­i­cate equip­ment. After my expe­ri­ence, I think their equip­ment could use a lit­tle scram­bling. Nev­er­the­less, Codsworth told them he was head­ing back to Red Rock­et where he felt like he could be useful.

Poor Codsworth. Hav­ing a napalm can­non attached to your arm doesn't nec­es­sar­i­ly make you a com­man­do, I guess.

Kent must’ve seen that I was still try­ing to get my legs under me, so he offered me a Nuka-Cola. I accept­ed. He even let me keep the cap.

I looked around his room. It remind­ed me of the room of a teenage boy. My room, specif­i­cal­ly, when I still lived with Mom and Dad. Kent's a bit of a Sil­ver Shroud fan. Okay, a lot of a Sil­ver Shroud fan, and I was sur­prised to see some of his mem­o­ra­bil­ia in such good shape.

"So I take it you like the Sil­ver Shroud."

"I do! You know him?"

"Used to lis­ten to the old broad­casts, Fri­day nights at 8 pm: Same Shroud time, same Shroud station."

He blinked, and the excite­ment in his eyes turned to con­fu­sion and doubt. “That was over 200 years ago,” he said. “How’s that possible?”

I told him the short ver­sion of the sto­ry, the rel­e­vant parts, any­way. I nev­er know how any­one is going to react when I tell them, from Codsworth's mawk­ish­ness, to Danse's sym­pa­thet­ic analy­sis, to Preston's lack­lus­ter acknowl­edge­ment, I've seen a wide range with just the few peo­ple I've told. Kent was impressed, which was kind of refresh­ing, actually.

"Whoa... You're like Mr. Abom­inable from Episode 83," he gasped.

It took me a moment to remem­ber what he was talk­ing about. "Wasn't he a...caveman?" I asked him.

"Yeah, he was. They found him in the har­bor and thawed him out."

I couldn't help but be amused by his anal­o­gy, and my knowl­edge of Sil­ver Shroud triv­ia suf­fi­cient­ly impressed him. That's also when I real­ized I have more in com­mon with pre-war ghouls than just about any­one else. In fact, I may have more in com­mon with Kent than I want to admit——we both have more than one foot stuck in the past. And he's com­mit­ted to the Shroud. Real­ly committed.

He's got a craz——er, ambi­tious notion to bring the Shroud back. Or rather, bring him to life. He asked if I'd look for a Shroud cos­tume for him——the trade­mark trench coat and sil­ver Tom­my gun——over at Hubris Comics. They'd been film­ing a TV pilot before every­thing hit the fan. He wasn't sure what else I'd find there, but he seemed quite sure I'd find the cos­tume. I'm sure that's all he needs for a long career in law enforcement.

He'd let me crash in his place for a night after I'd made a total idiot of myself, I felt like I owed him. So, I said sure.

Admit­ted­ly, I felt a lit­tle bet­ter after my talk with Kent, but I was fuck­ing ecsta­t­ic to get out of the Mem­o­ry Den. I went over to the gen­er­al store run by a woman named Daisy, anoth­er pre-war ghoul. I trad­ed in some excess junk and we chat­ted a lit­tle about old-world stuff. She didn't think I knew what I was talk­ing about, so she quizzed me. I rem­i­nisced about grass lawns, and base­ball, and ice cream. And libraries. Specif­i­cal­ly, she asked me if I'd take an over­due book back Boston Pub­lic Library downtown.

I told her the fine has got to be high­er than my first mort­gage, but she assured me it's most like­ly been waived by now. She just real­ly miss­es going there and was hop­ing some­one would "clean it out" and make it a lit­tle safer for peo­ple to go back to.

I said I'd do it.

I went to the Rex­ford after than to check in to my hotel room—to make sure I still had a room there. I ran into a guy named Rufus in the lob­by who was look­ing to hire some­one to retrieve some­thing called a Beer Bud­dy over at the Sham­rock Taphouse...a pro­to­type Pro­tec-tron that lit­er­al­ly serves beer from itself. A lit­er­al walk­ing keg. For­mer frat boys every­where col­lec­tive­ly roll in their graves. The ones for­tu­nate enough to be buried.

I told Rufus I'd look for it.

Com­ic book col­lect­ing, read­ing, home brew­ing... It's easy to for­get that peo­ple used to have hob­bies they'd invent­ed sim­ply because they were bored. It's dif­fi­cult to pur­sue your inter­ests, when just walk­ing out the front door is an extreme sport.

As I was head­ing up to my room, I ran into anoth­er old face...a very old face. The old Vault-tec sales­man that got us the spaces in Vault 111 just hap­pened to be in the room across from mine. I didn't rec­og­nize him at first, but he sure rec­og­nized me.

He wasn't in the mood for a friend­ly trip down Mem­o­ry Lane, though. He demand­ed to know why I hadn't aged or ghouled-out like him and the oth­er pre-war sur­vivors, and when I told him why, he looked mod­er­ate­ly hor­ri­fied and assured me he had no idea that's what Vault-tec had been up to. He mel­lowed a bit after that.

Still, he wasn't just miss­ing his good looks. Life on ghouls hasn't exact­ly been fun the last cou­ple cen­turies, which I was learn­ing from my new acquain­tances. Peo­ple don't want to look at them, let alone hire them. Most are mis­treat­ed and abused, some are forced into slav­ery, thanks to their metab­o­lisms that allow them to forego food and water indef­i­nite­ly. Oth­ers just live in total pover­ty, hav­ing lost every­thing and every­one close to them cen­turies ago, unable to move on. A shame, because these are the peo­ple who could rebuild things the way they were——or some sem­blance of it, any­way. They were the teach­ers, doc­tors, sci­en­tists, and engi­neers of the past. Heck, even sales­men and shop­keep­ers have plen­ty to offer.

He asked me if I knew of any work. I was the last per­son to be giv­ing advice of any sort, par­tic­u­lar­ly employ­ment advice. I want­ed out of this con­ver­sa­tion. I want­ed to be alone with my own mem­o­ries and my own pain to wal­low in. Out of a lack of any­thing else to say, I encour­aged him to head back to Sanc­tu­ary. He was doubt­ful at first, but I assured him it's a revived com­mu­ni­ty of set­tlers now, and they could use some help. First time I ever sold some­thing to a sales­man... But if Pre­ston is a man of his word——and I tru­ly think he is——he'd be wel­come. I told him to tell the set­tlers I sent him.

He final­ly agreed, but asked me if I'd come by to check up on him later.

I said I'd be there.

We part­ed ways and I went to my room. That was three days ago. I think. Good­neigh­bor seems to have a rep­u­ta­tion for dan­ger and sin, but the only dan­ger I've real­ly seen here is nos­tal­gia. The whole place is steeped in it, and it's a trap I've let myself fall into. I've holed myself up in my room here at the Rex­ford since, sleep­ing too much, eat­ing too lit­tle, writ­ing out every­thing that's hap­pened since I got to Good­neigh­bor in the hopes that it'll all make sense.

Why had I agreed to all these ridicu­lous jobs? I didn't intend to fol­low through with any of them. When I checked in, I didn't ever intend to leave this room again. After all, two cen­turies is a long time to be alive, and I've clear­ly over­stayed my wel­come. Good­bye cru­el world, indeed...

Shaun——wherever he is——is long gone. I have lit­tle chance of find­ing him now. As for any of my oth­er "respon­si­bil­i­ties," well, the Broth­er­hood of Steel——all three of them——have got enough to wor­ry about. Pal­adin Danse is a decent com­man­der, and if they sur­vive, it'll be thanks to him. The Min­ute­men will make it if Pre­ston would just pull his head out of his ass and fig­ure out what he's doing. And all of these oth­er dumb lit­tle tasks I've been duped into will be for­got­ten about and peo­ple will just go on with their lives. The world, in short, won't miss some ran­dom weirdo that breezed in from a time cap­sule ask­ing stu­pid ques­tions and look­ing for yet anoth­er lost per­son in the Waste­land. Plen­ty of peo­ple have lost every­thing, what makes me spe­cial? The only thing I'm good for was the hope they could suck­er me into a bunch of menial goose chas­es no oth­er chump would agree to.

Ha-ha, joke's on you, Vault-dweller. Fuck you and the Pop­si­cle stick you slid off of.

Good rid­dance, and good night.

Two hours lat­er, and I still didn't have the nerve to do it. I sat in this room, hold­ing my gun and stared at it for two hours, stew­ing in my own cliché, before I just felt silly.

Who am I kid­ding, any­way? I'm the guy who refus­es to go to bed until the dish­es are done. Call in guilt, or call it obses­sion, I don't let things go easily.

So, I reread every­thing I wrote and record­ed, from the moment I left the Vault 'till now...and final­ly, I found it, two para­graphs above this one. That crazy four-let­ter word that means every­thing, the one that peo­ple say when they're feel­ing fool­ish or exasperated.

No, not that four-let­ter word, before that: Hope.

That's what made Kent's eyes light up when I agreed to find his Sil­ver Shroud costume...

What made Daisy smile when I said I'd take her book back to the library...

What made the Vault-tec sales­man walk a lit­tle taller when I said I'd come by to see how he was fit­ting in...

Vault-tec rep

These aren't stu­pid lit­tle favors. They're things that give peo­ple hope. That prove that we're human. On the oth­er side of the nos­tal­gia is the bridge to hope. These are the motives that keep us alive and keep us going——creativity, knowl­edge, com­mu­ni­ty. They rep­re­sent the best part of us.

And I'm the guy they sin­gled out as the one that can help bring that to them. Maybe I am a suck­er, but that's still a hell of a compliment.

Shaun, I will find you, what­ev­er it takes. Even if it's to put you to rest with your mom. In the mean­time, I got a Com­mon­wealth to look out for.

If this is all a dream, so what? There's clear­ly more to this crazy fan­ta­sy, and I hate leav­ing a sto­ry unfin­ished. Time to turn the page and get on with it.

...that beer 'bot, though. I don't know what that is. I just got­ta see that for myself.

Nathan Rook
For­mer Cap­tain of the US Army,
Cur­rent sur­vivor of Vault 111,
Lov­ing Hus­band, Ded­i­cat­ed Father...

GN25

...and Pissed Off Sonofabitch.

Octo­ber 30, 2287 6:27 am


paperball

Author Notes

Holy cow. I start­ed this chap­ter right around the time the pan­dem­ic hit. I'd hoped to have it done by the time I was fin­ished post­ing the com­ic, but that dead­line flew right by. With all the anx­i­eties I was feel­ing, I so bad­ly want­ed to make this a hope­ful mes­sage, but it's hard to write a character's moti­va­tion when you're not feel­ing moti­vat­ed either. I think ulti­mate­ly it does have a hope­ful mes­sage, but it takes a bit to get there. My hus­band is fond of say­ing that peo­ple are 51% good, it's that 49% you got­ta wor­ry about, and it applies to the self as much as the whole. I do believe that——we've seen a lot of good come out of the last few months——but for every good thing we've seen, there's an equal and oppo­site bad, and it's tak­ing a toll on every­one. So, I hope this sound­ed sin­cere, 'cause I was kin­da fak­ing it. 

Any­way, here. I'm tired of look­ing at it, tired of try­ing to make it bet­ter. I real­ly just want to move on with the sto­ry and have fun, so I'm not even going to read it over again. Just post­ing and mov­ing on. If there are errors, I don't want to know.

I did have fun research­ing ball point pens of the 50's though and mak­ing that one in the mid­dle. Pret­ty sure my grand­par­ents used to have a whole draw­er full of them. Too bad my pho­to­graph­ic mem­o­ry is out of film.

Comic Storylines

Waste­book