There are times you flinch at memory’s embrace; the recollection of a name, a face, that meant nothing when you began, and could mean nothing else when finally it’s through with you.
It was a drop of water on my HUD, somewhere in the middle of Boston, and I was tired of Following the Freedom Trail through super mutant fortresses. All unknowing, I went to see what the unfound location was.
It wasn’t a water drop.
It was a tear.
It was called the Fen Street Sewer. Just saying that name now makes my skin crawl.
But who am I trying to fool? This older, wiser self knows he can’t hide from the truth. I saw the red light, and I went on anyway:
I’d like to think that I flinched when I saw the thing, but that would be a lie; what came next was as inevitable as fate, and I had gone there of my own will. From that point, I was in his world.
I knew the killer was sick, but smart. I knew it because I’d been in those places too many times, seen too many lives snuffed out like candles. This was old hat to me now, and nothing much about it could bother me anymore. Who knew what that said about me?
Just this last mission, I thought – ah, but that was a younger me… just one last mission, one last hit, one last drink. One last Frankenstein to feed, and we’ll be free. Until the next one, of course. Still, just let me clear this dungeon, I thought, and I’m through – take the gold watch, sit around the house, retire … quit playing these shooters and take up something relaxing like Goat Sim.
The holotape was addressed to “Dear Detective.” It wasn’t intended for me – I’d come here years after the bombs fell. I was history’s janitor, picking through the pieces of a dead past. The killer had lured the detective here – I wondered who it had been. What was he like?
I felt I was beginning to understand this killer. For one thing, he was a sick little puppy. But funny, too. I recognized the style – pure Fallout.
When the ghouls attacked, it was almost an afterthought. We weren’t here for those twisted little things; we were here for the story.
I put them out of their misery. Mindless as they were, their glowing eyes seemed to thank me as I snuffed out their light.
I wasn’t really thinking about them, though, or even the killer, anymore – or his story, as he told it in the “Dear Detective” holotapesL how he’d felt pressured by society to fit in, how this dungeon was the only place he felt free. Just another excuse for letting the animal run amuk. Enough. I’d done all the good I could in this world, usually by escorting others out of it. I know my partner would never quit – could never quit – because he was a robot. But I was ready for my time in the sun.
My partner kept his hand on his gun; he said it was in case there were more ghouls, but I knew he needed the weight of its assurance, some anchor in a world gone astray. Just like the killer, I thought; following familiar patterns, like a rat in a maze, all the while thinking he’s the cat in a game of cat and mouse. But the detective was a terrier. You see enough rats and the thrill of the chase fades away – it’s another day at the office. 9 to 5, just like the next schlub:
I thought about the choices I’d made in life; no wife, no family, no children. I wondered if it would have been different if I could have seen the world again through a child’s eyes. Like
You didn’ … you did, didn’t you? Okay, Fallout, that’s fVcked up. Strollers? OMFG … I just … really … lemme reload my gun real quick … okay, deep breath … maybe it’s just strollers – oh, there’s a skeleton in a dress … deep breath …
I … the teddy bear is a symbol … I got it, Fallout. You can’t show children, so you …
… my partner was looking at me funny.
“Might wanna put the gun down,” he said.
“I just … I need a moment, Nick.”
He handed me a holotape. “It’s the last one.”
“Dear Detective … ” the voice on the tape droned on. Distant. Bored. Like he already knew he was dead by my time. “I didn’t mean to hurt you, but you hurt me first …”
At least he’d seen justice, then. All I wanted now was to get away. Let’s just find his corpse and clear this mission … the voice on the tape kept going.
“Now we’ll be together forever …”
It took me ten minutes to find it:
The voice on the tape was male … but he’d never said the detective was.
I came to with my partner standing over me. The sun was bright in my eyes and I was breathing heavily. How I got out, or why I was clutching the severed head of a Raider Psycho, I still don’t remember.
“You okay down there?” Nick drawled.
“I think so. Just … ”
I dropped the head and checked my gun in its holster. I stood up and checked my quest log.
“I don’t think I’m done being a gamer.”