Soulmates were common once.
Leastway's that's what the ghouls claimed.
Back before the bombs fell most people had some words on their arm. Or on a leg. Their face maybe. Neck or chest.
No one ever figured out if the position meant anything. But the words? The words were the first thing your soulmate was ever gonna say to you.
Soulmates were so common once, that not having one was rare.
Blankskins they called them.
What other reason could there be not to have a soulmate? 'Less of course they were mute, or you were gonna die before you got a chance to meet 'em.
Tale has it, about fifteen years before the bombs, more and more blankskins were being born everywhere. Only a handful of soulmarked in each town.
The world started speculating that the end was nigh.
Live fast, die young. You ain't got nothin' to look forward to anyway.
Big business started prepping. Vaults springing up in cities all over.
Not everyone could fit in them though.
The bombs hit and people flash fried.
Children hid under their school desks as the sirens sounded. Seconds later they never had to worry about homework again.
Those caught in the initial blast were lucky.
Wiped out in the blink of an eye.
Their bones turned to ash in the wind.
Those further out got to see the flash. Feel the heat. Soulmarks melting with the rest of their flesh. The skin sliding off their faces like peeled potatoes.
The end of the world came in an apocalypse of fire and brimstone.
And yet… The earth kept turning.
There was some debate over whether or not humanity survived, but homosapiens at least had avoided extinction.
From the ashes came a new world.
A world of rad storms and mutated beasties. A world where the supermarkets ran out of food and didn't refill. Where irradiated soil stubbornly refused to yield new grain.
Throughout it all human beings, those far enough away to have seen the mushroom clouds, struggled, persevered and procreated.
Generations passed. The world before the bombs became old wives tales, then distant folklore. The only ones old enough to remember those times the roaming ghouls themselves.
The soulmarked became legend. Bare skin the norm.
But in each generation there would be a small handful upon whom words would appear.
"Come out, come out, wherever you are."
"No, take me instead."
"Molerats, nasty little buggers."
Or, in young Preston Garvey's case: "Minutemen? So now I'm travelling backward in time."
The poor boy didn't stand a chance.
He became obsessed.
Eyes lighting with furore each time he heard tales of the 2180 defense of Diamond City, or General McGann's valiant last stand at the castle.
Each Halloween, when the town's children became deathclaws or the Silver Shroud, he proudly shouldered a wooden musket and hoped that this year his soulmate would find him.
As the innocence of childhood faded, his rifle was no longer a toy. He went out hunting for his family and helped patrol the feeble wooden barricades that marked the settlement's defenses.
At seventeen he finally met his heroes and immediately enlisted under Colonel Hollis. He was young and keen, an ardent believer in the righteousness of their cause.
He was the first to volunteer whenever a settlement needed help and almost always introduced himself the same way:
"Hey there friend. Preston Garvey, Commonwealth Minutemen."
Sometimes he was welcomed, other times scorned, but never did anyone mention time travel.
When General Becker died in 2282 he left behind a power vacuum and the Minutemen slowly fell apart from the inside.
Many soldiers became disillusioned and left. Returning home or joining up with local gangs, but not Preston. He remained. Forever loyal to the ideal. How could he do otherwise when his soulmate's words lay on his arm?
When Quincy called for aid, he answered. Marching in alongside Colonel Hollis and a small squad of men.
At first they thought they'd won. Drove off the attacking Gunners.
They'd been wrong.
The Gunners had reinforcements. The Minutemen did not.
The assault came at night. In a mere hour the town had been overwhelmed. Its inhabitants slaughtered.
Garvey escaped with around a dozen civilians and a handful of soldiers. Twenty people all told.
The Gunners were in quick pursuit, determined to wipe them out completely.
Fortunately they lost their tail in Jamaica Plains, but their luck didn't hold.
Feral ghouls attacked in Lexington, they lost Anthony, Josh, Emma and another of the Quincy townsfolk in the Super Duper Mart.
They kept heading North, following Mama Murphy's chem addled claims of a Sanctuary in the hills.
Each step they took, Preston felt a cloying darkness pushing in on him. A feeling of helplessness. He couldn't save these people. He couldn't save anyone.
The words on his arm, previously considered a bright promise, were now a damning curse.
No wonder his soulmate thought they'd travelled back in time. The Minutemen were wiped out. Exterminated.
As Jennersen fell outside the entrance to the Museum of Freedom in Concord, Preston bitterly wondered if he would ever even have joined the Minutemen without those words on his arm.
He did his best to hold the latest raiders off from a balcony while the depleted survivors barricaded themselves in a room.
It was hopeless. There were too many of them. Each time he had to reload, yet more breached the defenses.
Gunshots echoed from downstairs. The raiders must be pumped up on psycho as they opened fire on the prewar museum displays.
Once he may have been glad of their distraction. Attempted to turn it into a tactical diversion.
Now it seemed like merely delaying the inevitable. The only settler even remotely proactive in their survival was Sturges.
Mama Murphy was muttering in the corner. Something about burning ice and a suit like eyes.
He tried to ignore her madness and he had to ignore the Longs, lest he resort to turning his musket on himself.
A sudden barking caught his attention along with many of the raiders still outside.
They turned, firing in the other direction before one by one falling dead.
A tan and black dog emerged from the ruins, creeping from corpse to corpse, followed much more cautiously by a human.
The person kept to the sides of the street. Trying to use the buildings for cover. It was tricky for them to remain hidden however, dressed in a bright blue vault suit.
The dog sniffed a body and barked, the human checking left and right before darting out into the open. Rummaging through the raider's pockets, they found some food and ammo, before sprinting back to safety.
If the vault suit hadn't given it away, that brief action certainly proved they were new to the wasteland.
For they'd made a rookie mistake. They forgot to look up.
"Hey, up here on the balcony." He called out, startling them. Their grip tightened on their weapon as they finally glanced up.
"I've got a group of settlers inside. The raiders are almost through the door. Grab that laser musket and help us, please."
For a moment they hesitated. He could hardly blame them. Who in this age would risk their lives for a bunch of strangers? Enter a building full of raiders when the streets were currently clear?
To his surprise they darted forward, underneath his balcony and out of view.
Shouts soon started down below. Raiders cursing and yelling as they realised the threat at their rear.
Far more had made it inside than he realised and he couldn't help worry about the stranger's safety.
Perhaps he shouldn't have called out. All he'd achieved was one more needless death.
The gunfire abruptly stopped. Marcy Long and Mama Murphy fell quiet. Silence pressed in oppressively on all sides. Broken only by creaking floorboards as someone moved outside.
There was a whine. The scratching sound of scrabbling paws and the group took a collective sigh of relief.
Sturges went back to the computer as Preston unbarricaded the door. He held his laser musket loose in his hands as went to greet their savior.
The battered wood turned on squeaky hinges to reveal a woman with blue eyes and dark hair. A remarkably good condition prewar pistol in her hands.
Her vault suit was accentuated with belts and bandoliers, numerous pouches that presumably housed her stocks of food and ammo.
There was a thin piece of string round her neck, dipping below the collar of her vault suit, and a couple of inches away he could make out a single letter on her pale skin.
He could only presume there were more words below her clothes, running along her collar bone most likely.
He'd never met anyone else with a soulmark before. 'Cepting a handful of ghouls.
And he only had their word for it. The letters long since wiped from their skin.
Though living with the same person for 200 plus years without murdering them seemed like pretty good proof of being soulmates to him.
Could this woman be his soulmate? He tried desperately to think back to what he said on the balcony. Was that why she'd risked her life to help them?
His heart rate quickened at the possibility. Plummeting again when he looked into her eyes and failed to see his emotions mirrored back at him.
No joy. No sign of recognition. Nothing that suggested either he or his words meant anything out of the ordinary to her at all.
She quirked an eyebrow at the awkward silence. Her dog uncaring as he slipped inside and started exploring the room. Preston bit back on his disappointment, as he finally got round to introductions.
"Man, I don't know who you are, but your timing's impeccable. Preston Garvey, Commonwealth Minutemen."
Still nothing as she opened her mouth for the first time and said those words he'd waited a lifetime to hear:
"Minutemen? So now I'm travelling backward in time."
Author's note: Not sure yet if I'm going to keep this as a one shot, make a companion piece showing sole survivor's viewpoint or maybe even have multiple little drabbles as Preston realises the reason why his soulmate seems uninterested is that she's already in mourning for her own. It certainly won't be a whole playthrough of the game though.
If you want more please let me know. Other comments also gratefully received.