Chapter 4: The World Above

Following total atomic annihilation, the world as we know it may be drastically transformed. Between lethally high levels of toxic radiation and lack of basic necessities, other unforeseen dangers may lurk in the shadows. Horrific mutations caused by the harsh environments, violent savages, even communists may lie in wait, ready to pounce on the first innocent soul they happen across. The only guaranteed protection from the horrors of the nuclear wasteland is inside a genuine Vault-Tec Vault - accept no substitute!

The chamber was enormous and so silent, Charlotte could hear her heavy breathing echoing back at her from all angles. She took a few steps forward, keeping a hand on the wall to steady herself.

"Initiating decontamination sequence," An automated woman's voice flickered through some hidden speaker and Charlotte felt a fine mist spray her face and the rest of her body. She didn't feel a change. But then again, I'm healthy now. When I come back... Her stomach did somersaults just thinking about the condition she might return in.

"Decontamination complete. Releasing lock,"

A similar, if somewhat smaller door at the end of the room began to roll back, just the way the other one had. This one, however was accompanied by another sound, beyond the moving of metal on metal...a rushing, roaring kind of sound...Charlotte moved closer, straining to hear.

Then, before she knew what was happening, she was slammed against the back of the chamber, pinned against the inner vault door by the torrent of water that had gushed in from the outside. She had barely enough time to grab the tiniest gulp of air before the room was completely flooded.

The pressure relented slightly and she kicked off the back wall, swimming desperately for the exit, lungs already burning for oxygen. Through her panic, she could feel that there was something...wrong with the water. Something that made her skin crawl and her insides tie themselves in knots. Radiation, She realized and began kicking harder, faster in her attempt to get out of the toxic sludge.

The surface of the water wasn't far above the outer exit. Chest about to burst, she surged upwards, barely even noticing something brushing her ankle down below.

She broke the surface and let out a huge gasp, grabbing hold of a large rock on the bank and pulling herself on top of it. She lay there for a few minutes, panting and shaking from the adrenaline.

"Bombs must've...rerouted the river…" She said between breaths, not entirely sure why she was talking aloud. "Irradiated. Not safe."

By then, she had gotten her breath back and her head was starting to clear. She got to her feet, felt to make sure everything was in her backpack and made her way up the rocky bank, breathing deeply. The air was different here too...heavy and sour, but...still better than the vault. Fresher.

A kind of growling, clicking noise behind her made her glance back curiously and let out a strangled scream. Some sort of horrible...crab on legs was lumbering out of the water not five feet away her, claws extended and snapping menacingly.

Charlotte, heart whamming in her chest, fumbled for the gun in her pocket, switched the safety off on the third try and fired a few wild shots. The bullets bounced harmlessly off the monster's shell and it kept coming.

She whirled around again and scrambled up the rocks, feet slipping in occasional pools of water. "Oh god, oh god, oh god…" As she reached the top and pulled herself up with trembling arms, she could feel the whiff of air around her leg where the creature's claw had almost snapped it in half.

With another terrified shriek, Charlotte started running as fast as her unsteady legs could go, not looking back. The broken and scorched husks of buildings loomed over her as she sprinted in a direction she fervently hoped was west. Anywhere, just out of that city of death and away from that monster -

"Ha! There you are!"

She stumbled to a stop and tears she hadn't known were there rolled down her cheeks. "Wh-what?"

Around the corner of one of the buildings, three people charged towards her, all dressed in odd leathery armor adorned with spikes. Two of them held baseball bats and the third had a gun not unlike her own.

She breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank goodness, you can help. There's something back there -"

She was cut off by one of the baseball bats connecting hard with her shoulder and a sadistic laugh echoing in her ear.

Staggering a little, she started to run again, calves aching as she stumbled and let out a choked sob. After a minute, the taunts and footsteps behind her died away and she glanced back just in time to see the monster's claw lop off the head one of the leather clad people. She clapped her hand over her mouth to stifle another scream.

She ran until her legs were numb and rubbery underneath her, out of the destroyed city and over the desolate rocky brown landscape that stretched on towards the horizon. She sank to the ground, gasping and clutching the stitch in her side, her heavy breathing punctuated by occasional hysterical sobs.

"Okay, it's okay," She rubbed her arms, as if giving herself a comforting hug. "It's okay, you got aw-w-way and you've got your gun and...and you've g-got to learn to use it, that's all, a-and…" She drew a deep, shuddering breath. "And just learn to st-stay out of sight and it'll b-be okay...the nearest vault is j-j-just…" She glanced at her Pip-boy. "About five or s-six miles north of here. Vault 101." She took another deep breath and wiped the tears from her eyes, calming down a little. "They can help me and it'll all be okay. It's okay."

A shout pierced the silence and Charlotte sat bolt upright, heart kicking back into high gear. Fumbling for her gun, she pressed herself against a nearby rock and glanced around nervously for the source of the noise.

In the distance, she could just make out the form of someone running, sprinting even, in her general direction. However, unlike the leather psychopaths, the bright colors of a vault suit stood out starkly against the colorless landscape. She sighed and stood up, but kept the gun by her side. Just in case.

"H-hey, hello!" She shouted. "Hey, can you help me?"

The person didn't stop running, getting close enough that she could make out the features of a youngish blond man.

"I'm from Vault 73 and…" She paused, the man did not. "Are you okay?"

He was still silent, and drawing closer all the time. She gripped her gun more tightly and began to back away, ever so slowly. "Listen, I'm not here to hurt anyone, I just need to..."

He was close enough now for her to see the Vault-tec logo on the front of his jumpsuit…and the knife in his hand.

Something snapped inside her.

She stood up straight and aimed the gun square at the stranger's chest. With a voice much deeper than her own, she barked "HEY!"

The man finally stopped, staring nervously at the gun.

Charlotte pushed her hair out her face, gun hand trembling ever so slightly. "I have been through enough BULLSHIT today and I do not need some ASSHOLE - " She grabbed the knife out of his astonished hand and threw it behind her with all her strength. "Trying to fucking KILL me when all I want is some goddamn HELP - Don't you move!" She gripped the gun with both hands as the man shifted uncomfortably, eyes darting towards where she had thrown his knife. "Think I won't use this? I will!" She fired off a couple of shots behind her to prove her point, trying not to wince at the loud noise. "See? So you'd better not mess with me, because - what?"

The man's eyes had widened and his jaw had dropped, his gaze still fixed behind her. Carefully, still keeping the gun trained on his chest, she glanced over her shoulder.

It was gigantic. At some point, it must have been a bear, but it was mutated almost beyond recognition, patches of hair missing and the skin underneath horribly burned and scarred. And now it lay not three feet away from her, bloodstained claws still twitching…with a knife buried in its shoulder and two bullet holes right between its milky eyes.

"Look, I told you, you don't have to follow me around," Charlotte made another futile effort to move her hair off of her sweaty neck. "So I shot something that was chasing you, it's okay, you don't owe me anything!"

The stranger blinked, still matching her pace.

Charlotte sighed. She had been trying to maintain an air of coolness after discovering her accidental heroism, but it was waning after the stress of the day and this weird...person wasn't helping much. "Fine then. If you insist on tagging along, I might as well know your name."

"Gary." It was the first word he had spoken.

"Okay...Gary...I'm Charlotte. Thanks for not murdering me."

Gary smiled, an odd, almost humorless smile that made him look even more insane.

Charlotte stopped walking and took a deep breath. Even if he was crazy, he was the only thing that hadn't tried to kill her yet and that meant she had to trust him. "Gary, I'm looking for someplace that might have medical supplies. Would your vault have some to spare?"

His eyes widened and he shook his head fervently. Then, pressing a few buttons on his Pip-boy, he leaned closer and pointed to a location marked on his map.

"Megaton?" Well, I guess it's pretty close to Vault 101 anyway… She hoisted her backpack higher on her shoulders. "Okay thanks. We can go there together, but after that, we go our separate ways, okay?"

Gary nodded.

They walked in silence for a bit, the only sound coming from the wind whistling through the dead grass at their feet.

"So uh…" Charlotte struggled to think of a conversation topic. This was the only person around her age that she had ever spent any time with, except Jim, of course. "Vault 108, huh? What's it like?"

Gary shrugged. "Gary…"

Charlotte's brow furrowed. "Can't you say anything else?"

"Gary," He shook his head, gesturing vaguely with his hands. "Gary gary gary - gary, gary?"


He sighed and pointed to the number the back of his vault suit.

"Yeah, okay, Vault 108…"

He pointed to himself. "Gary."

"You live there."

He nodded, then held up five fingers on one hand and four on the other.

", fifty four? There are fifty four people?"

He shook his head and starting counting off. He held up one finger; "Gary," two fingers; "Gary," three fingers; "Gary,"

It took Charlotte a minute or two to understand. "You mean...there are fifty four...Garys? You're all the same? All like you?"

He nodded.

"But…" She stared at him. "How...what...are you clones or something?"

He nodded again, pointing to a tattoo on the back of his neck: 13.

"That's incredible…" She looked at him more closely now, thrilled at being able to be so close to this medical marvel. "Are they all different? Were there any females?"

Gary shook his head and pointed to himself. "Gary gary gary," He grinned maliciously and made a stabbing motion. "Gaaaaary!"

Charlotte laughed in spite of herself. "So you're all murderous psychopaths then," She paused. "But you're not going to kill me, right?"

Gary shrugged.

She waited, but that was all the response he gave.