Christmas Night – Fallout 76 Short Story


Jacob tried to sleep. His watch was in fifteen minutes, and he hadn’t slept a wink. But the thought of Julia, alone in Charleston…

That’s a stupid thought, he mused. There’s over two-thousand people in Charleston. She can’t possibly be less alone. She’s probably the least ‘alone’ person in all of Appalachia, possibly the whole of America. Be honest: you’re less worried about her and more selfish about yourself.

Here he was, shivering in a ratted sleeping bag beneath an equally-ratted tent on the road to Summersville Dam. The night of Christmas Eve. Naturally, he’d drawn the short stick for dam patrol. Of course he’d drawn the short stick. Larkin always had a stick up her ass when it came to patrol orders, but maybe this time she had a point calling for double duty. The raiders that came down from Pleasant Valley the day before were anything but pleasant, and chose a fine time to hit the city. And who knew when more would be back. Every able-bodied Responder was on high alert while everyone else in the valley tried their best to stay optimistic. 

That Christmas, the engineers chopped down the biggest tree they could haul, raised it in the center of the capitol building rotunda, and, with help from all the children and orphans, decorated it with tinsel, electric lights, and as many unbroken baubles as they could find.

Even with the threat of limited medical supplies and food, a meager supply of bullets and weapons, and the constant pall of danger from the mountain, the Responders and all the people under the care could forget that the bombs had dropped for at least one night. Food would be plentiful. Cake and cookies, whiskey for the adults, Nuka-Cola for the kids. Presents would be passed around, working appliances, toys, tools, and scavenged cigars. Then, at midnight, Christmas carols followed by a long winter’s nap.

And Jacob was chattering his teeth out on the road to nowhere without a single hint of season’s cheer.

“Fuck,” he growled, turning over. He waited two minutes more to see if his core would flare to life. It did not.

“Fuck it!” he shouted, scrambling out of his sleeping bag in a frozen rage. By the time he’d flailed his way out of the tent, he’d already turned into a solid. He bitterly pulled and tied his hood over his head, bending down to retrieve his hunting rifle. At the same time, the ammo in his loose pocket fell to the ground; at least he’d remembered to put the seven-round clips inside a bag this time.

Jacob then heard the deep chuckle of Kuznetsov some meters away.

“Found a snake in your sleeping bag?”

“Don’t laugh at me, Kuv,” Jacob said, his voice cracking and his rifle barely hanging from his shoulder by the strap. “How the hell do you stand this cold, anyway? You don’t even have a hood.”

At first, the old man did not answer. He inhaled the last of his Tortoise and threw the cigarette butt to the ground.

“Where are you from, Vickens?” he asked with his thick accent, blowing addictive comfort into the air.

Jacob lifted his rifle to check the action. Naturally, it hadn’t been oiled in some time. But neither had any gun in Charleston’s arsenal.

“Beckley,” he said.

“Aye. But where are you really from?” Kuznetsov said with a lilt in his voice.

Jacob frowned and sighed. He’d been partnered with the old man for a week or so, and he found Kuznetsov a quiet but sturdy individual. Jacob wondered if he had been a Commie sympathizer before the War. Not that it mattered anymore anyway. Warming his fingerless gloves with steaming breath, Jacob regretted the fact that no one in the US ever needed to design a gun that worked with mittens.

“New Mexico, if you must know,” Jacob said. “Santa Fe.”

“The desert boy stuck in the freezer,” Kuznetsov said with a chuckle, a small grin forming behind his bushy mustache.

“Hah hah,” Jacob replied with a roll of his eyes. “Laugh it up. Besides, if I didn’t tell you, you’d keep digging.”

“You know me so well.”

“So where are you from, huh? Somewhere cold, I’ll bet. Moscow or something?”

The old man shook his head and adjusted his hat.

“Hah, Moscow. I love Americans,” he said. “So ignorant about every country besides their own.”

“That’s because ours is the best one out there,” Jacob said with a smile, leaning on his heels.

Kuznetsov laughed.

“Now there’s a fine patriot.”

It was silent for a moment, wind whistling through the trees. Even then, the ice and snow created an echo chamber of the visible quarter-mile.

“Well, russki?” Jacob said. “Are you going to reveal your mysterious origins?”

Kuznetsov eyed Jacob for a moment. He couldn’t tell, but Kuznetsov appeared to be judging whether Jacob was worthy of that piece of information.

“Kiev,” Kuznetsov said at last.

Jacob’s brow furrowed.

“Keeve? Where the hell’s that?”

Kuznetsov folded his hands in front of him, perhaps restraining them before they became fists. Jacob could never tell if the man wanted to give him a hug or strangle him.

“Ukrayina,” he replied. After a moment, he added, “Ukraine, to you.”

“Ukraine, huh?” Jacob asked. But then something clicked. “So you ain’t a russki after all?”

“Niet. But I might as well be, since no one could tell the difference after the invasions. I left Kiev with my wife in ‘45. Back then, you don’t walk the street with less than three people unless you like being mugged. We come to America hoping it would be safer here. It was not. I was attacked many times because of my accent. Our home was broken into many times.”

“Damn,” Jacob said. “Did you call the police at all?”

Kuznetsov laughed.

“And what would that do? I’d go to prison for accusing red-blooded Americans for assaulting a Communist. I would disappear, like many of my neighbors.”

Jacob nodded. His face then darkened.

“It wasn’t right,” he said. “I knew it wasn’t right, but I couldn’t say anything. In high school, I’d always hear about some jock being scolded just because they wore a red jacket, or some girl saying something the teachers didn’t like to hear. A Korean kid in my class was taken by policemen in the middle of my history lecture sophomore year. Turns out his whole family was shipped somewhere. He wasn’t a commie at all, he just looked Chinese.”

Kuznetsov was silent.

“I was always the joke at SF High, too. I’m haemophilic, see. It’s only moderate, but it was enough to make me 4-F. All of my friends got shipped off to Anchorage, and I get stuck working as an electrician. Everybody thought I was dodging the draft after I graduated. So I thought I’d disappear, too.”

“You would rather die on the battlefield than live in your homeland?” asked Kuznetsov.

Jacob huffed.

“Sure, if you call this living, freezing my ass off on Christmas Eve.”

“Your job is important. You have water, cram, a warm bed,” Kuznetsov said, tilting his head with every item. “Medicine sometimes.”

He paused.

“And you defend the defenseless. Your friends may have died for their country, but you live for what remains of it.”

Jacob thought for a moment, adjusting his rifle.

“I guess you’re right,” he said.

“You have family left?” Kuznetsov asked.

The gravel and dirty snow on the uneven road cracked beneath Jacob’s feet.

“Not exactly.”

Kuznetsov’s head tilted towards him.

“Try to make one of your own, then?”

Jacob laughed lightly.

“Yeah. I’ve got a girl. Her name’s Julia. You may have seen her at dinner.”

“Julia. Hmm. Not beautiful Julia that works in the infirmary?”

“Yeah, she’s the one. She’s doing God’s work while I fix light switches.”

“You need light to see, don’t you? And she can’t heal without light.”

Jacob laughed again, deeper this time.

“Now you’re starting to sound like Father Gilbert.”

Kuznetsov grinned.

“I suppose I do.”

“You said you had a wife,” Jacob said without thinking. “Is she here? With the Responders?”

Kuznetsov remained silent. Again, Jacob couldn’t read his face. Uncomfortable, Jacob turned away, content to scan the treeline.

“Sorry,” he said. “That was an awful private question.”

“Of all the places we went together, I think here, in Charleston, would have been her favorite.”

Jacob grinned.

“You think she could stand Philip’s cook-”

Whizz.

Right past Jacob’s ear.

Followed by a not-so-distant crack.

“Derr`mo!” shouted Kuznetsov, shoving Jacob towards the treeline. Jacob hardly processed what had happened by the time he and the Ukranian had collapsed off the side of the road: someone had nearly taken off his head with a crisp .308 round. Kuznetsov was on his feet before Jacob had a chance to catch his breath, finding cover behind a fallen tree and firing his rifle into the distance. “On your feet, Vickens! On your feet!”

Jacob shook the dizzy out of his head and hoisted himself to his knees. On habit, he again checked the action on his rifle. His mind then frantically remember something of vital import: he couldn’t fire his gun without bullets. Kuznetsov was already on his third clip before Jacob could tear open his ammo bag with trembling fingers.

It was then he heard the shouting. God, the shouting. The snow must have amplified the sound of a raider rampage, because there was no way that many were advancing. 

“Why are they attacking the dam!” Jacob shouted above the din of Kuznetsov’s fire, joining him at the fallen tree. “There’s no one up here!”

“Think, boy!” Kuznetsov shouted back. “If the dam comes down, all of Charleston goes with it!”

“Comes down?! Wha- The raiders would need artillery, or, or, bulldozers! Or-”

“Jacob, I need you to run!” Kuznetsov shouted, firing again. “Run and alert the rest of the men. Peterson and the others won’t be able to hold the dam themselves!”

“What?!” Jacob shouted as a bullet tore off bark from their cover. “You’re coming with me!”

“Damn it, boy! Peterson will be on his way! Go tell Larkin what is happening!”

“You don’t know that! Kuz, you’re going to get yourself killed!”

“And you’re going to get us all killed if you don’t go!”

Kuznetsov fired a clip more before Jacob pulled him down. Anger boiled in him, along with the adrenaline.

“What happened to living for your homeland, huh?!”

“This is not my homeland,” he hissed back. “But the people down there are my family. They are your family!”

Kuznetsov jammed another clip in his rifle, fired, and came back down when another bullet tore off frozen wood.

“You are my family, Jacob,” he said with surprising calm. “Go live for your family, live for Julia. Now go! Go!”

Kuznetsov shoved Jacob backwards. Jacob tumbled away, and without looking back, staggered to his feet as he felt bullets rain through the freeze-dried air. He ran like hell towards the crossroads to Charleston, the gunfire and howls of lunatics following behind him.

On his way back down, he did indeed see Peterson and his men running in the opposite direction towards his foreign partner.

But he never did learn what happened to Kuznetsov.

When the nuclear explosion rocked the dam fifteen minutes into his lung-burned sprint, he knew he was too late. He could only watch as the entirety of Summersville Lake fell upon the festive and unsuspecting city.

He never saw Julia again. 

Upon his knees, the weight of the world crashed upon him. 

And upon the flooded city of Charleston, gentle wisps of snow fell from the darkened sky.

Mental Chains – The Gauge of Death

moardepression

No, it is not.

I had a mild panic attack and a whole lot of depression this week. In fact, I’ve been in bed for the past two days (yesterday I don’t think I even got up to sit at my computer until 5 PM). It’s incredible the amount of energy drain currently going on. And I don’t see my doctor until next Tuesday.

Ugh. Slow medicine is slow.

I’m not sure my upload schedule for the next couple of weeks as I will be adjusting my medication again. Things are not working as they should. But I am alive, and I will write when I can. I’ve been distracting my mind with Starcraft 2 co-op mode and Monster Hunter World, both of which I would love to review.

So yeah. I can barely keep my eyes open right now. And yet my mind is buzzing away, daring me to think about negative things. Sucks.

Backstage Tales – The Toymaker

Fallout+4+Wanderer+trailer

Fallout 4 is, naturally, one of my favorite games to come out in a very long time. If you expect violence in a game about surviving a radiation-filled post-apocalyptic world, then you wouldn’t be disappointed. After all, when grenades are handed out like candy and shoulder-mounted nuclear catapults are stashed just minutes away at your local National Guard depot, there’s gonna be explosions and flying body parts in your immediate future (possibly even your own!). But that’s not the reason I play Fallout 4, or why I enjoy games made by Bethesda Softworks in general. While gameplay and the explosions are simply fantastic for a modern role-playing game, I love to analyze works of gaming by their writing and the stories represented in them.

Fallout 4 (as well as it’s previous titles) revolve around family. You, the player, take the role of a young mom and dad living in the suburbs of Boston in the year 2077, you’re currently living a quiet life. Taking walks in the park, watching your brand-new black-and-white television, and taking care of your six-month old son Shaun… You know, life as usual. The social unrest in other parts of the United States seem distant, and the ongoing war with China is half a world away.

fallout-4-pre-war-2

Ah, Codsworth. You’re so handy.

That is, until the nuclear bombs fall. No one knows whether the Chinese or the US launched the first missiles, but it hardly matters — mutually-assured destruction is the name of the game. You, your spouse, and your young son rush off to the safety of Vault 111, where you’ll be able to wait out the horrors of total nuclear annihilation. Though terrible circumstances, you become the only survivor, the Sole Survivor, of Vault 111.

That’s the story you experience as the player of Fallout 4. But there’s another story that really reached my heart further along.

In downtown Boston is a small administration building surrounded by the larger skyscrapers of the city. This building used to be the corporate headquarters of Wilson Automatoys, a pre-war company in the business of creating modern nuclear-powered toys for children. Their biggest seller is the Giddy-up Buttercup, a mechanical horse that’s perfect for any little girl — after all, there’s not a girl in the world who didn’t ask their parents at one time or another for their own pony! And it’s priced at an affordable $16,000!

The creator of these toys is a man named Arlen Glass. As a successful toymaker, he spent many years of his working life at Wilson Automatoys. The inspiration for the Giddy-up Buttercup had come from his daughter, Marlene. And although it’s not stated, I like to imagine Arlen had made the very first prototype of the horse just for her.

Arlen worked hard. Too hard, in fact. Wrapped up in improving and designing his creations, he hardly set aside time to see his wife Cheryl and their young daughter. One too many nights at the office, he didn’t call, he forgot groceries. He even forgot Marlene’s seventh birthday party. Despite this, Marlene love her father, and created a holotape especially for him sharing her love and asking him to come home.

Cheryl: Go ahead.

Marlene: Hi daddy! When are you coming home? You work too much. I want you to read to me again. Mommy says you’re helping all the horsies find good homes. Take care of them, ok? I love you. Hmm? Oh, Buttercup says she loves you too. We miss you. Come home soon!

800px-Fo4_Wilson_HQ_Ext

The Wilson Automatoys Building, circa 2287

But no matter how hard you work, you know politics isn’t far behind you in a large company like Wilson Automatoys. Arlen’s perfectionism in his designs began to erode the patience of the brand-new president of the company, Marc Wilson. You see, he inherited Wilson Automatoys from his father, and apparently wasn’t too keen on running a simple toy factory. Not only were the sales of Giddy-up Buttercup dropping due to the poor financial state of the US, the pressure of the government on companies to aid in the war effort in China had afforded Marc a golden opportunity: Project SCYTHE. Instead of making toys, the company would instead manufacture landmines at their factory just outside Boston. From children’s toys to weapons of war… Anything to make money, right?

Marc was one of the few people who knew about the project. At first. Somehow, word reached Arlen’s ears, and he was understandably furious. At the next company board meeting, Arlen called Marc out in front of everyone for steering the company so far from its original intent. Some stood with Arlen. Most didn’t. In response, Marc fired Arlen outright. Security escorted Arlen out of the building immediately, and advised him to never come back.

Marc: Damn it Nate, where are you? After today’s meeting, it’s going to take a miracle to salvage the SCYTHE contract. And you decide to take the evening off? Look, I wanted to keep the old man (Arlen) out of it. But what could I do? He called me out in front of the board! I had to fire him! Where do you stand, Nate? Are you with me, or with him? I want you in my office Monday at nine sharp. We can discuss the contract, or we can discuss your resignation. It’s up to you.

Instead of abandoning his life’s work, Arlen went back the next day to try to speak to Marc, maybe change his mind about the project.

But that day was the end of the world.

When a nuclear bomb fell just miles away from downtown, the city immediately became an ocean of fire and chaos. Arlen tried to make his way back home, but by the time he’d arrived, his home was nothing more than a crater.

He never saw Cheryl or Marlene again. In the deepest despair, he curled up in the ruins of his home and waited for the radiation to end his life.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy. Instead of dying, the radiation turned him into a ghoul. You see, in the Fallout world, if some poor soul is exposed to the right dose of radiation, it melts the skin and cartilage (meaning you lose your nose and ears, among other things), but grants an immunity from radiation and an unusually long lifespan. Perhaps immortality, in fact.

Arlen_Glass

The man (or ghoul) himself.

For over 200 years, Arlen lived as a broken shell of a man, wandering across the dangerous wasteland. One day, he discovered a new community outside Boston made of ghouls and humans called the Slog, and decided to take up residence, making toys for children that visited the settlement. After all that time, his work continued to be the only way he could get away from his past.

And that’s when the Sole Survivor (you, the player) comes into the picture. After exploring the ruins of Wilson Automatoys, you come across the holotape Marlene left for her father all those centuries ago. Then by absolute chance, the Survivor meets Arlen Glass, recognizes his name as the once-famous toymaker, and gives him the holotape. Arlen plays it, and gasps in tearful awe, hearing the voice of his daughter and wife for the first time in 210 years.

Arlen: It’s… been so long. I never thought I’d hear their voices again. You can’t imagine what this means to me.

She was right, you know. I did work too much. And now… I’ll never hear her voice again. I’ll never get to hold her. Kiss her goodnight. All I have left are the memories. And… this tape.

From one parent to another… Thank you.

As a parting gift, Arlen presented the Survivor with the present he could never give his daughter for her birthday: a small Giddyup Buttercup toy.

Normally this is where the sad story and the quest line ends. Later I learned that Arlen is supposed to make a solitary journey back to where his home once stood to say a final goodbye to Cheryl and Marlene.

But he didn’t get the chance in my game.

After giving Arlen the holotape, I went about exploring the wasteland, killing raiders, helping caravans and settlements, you know… the usual hero Minuteman stuff. One day, I returned to the Slog to see if I could help assist in building up the community. But the moment I approach, I hear gunfire. The Slog was under attack by raiders.

I grabbed my plasma pistol. My companion and I rush into battle, vaporizing the bad guys left and right. After just a minute of intensity, the battle was over. The Slog was saved.

But there was a single casualty laying on the ground in front of the workshop.

Arlen.

I paused the game and thought for a moment. I could reload the game, and he’d be alive again. I could use cheats to bring him back to life, and I could go on with the game as if nothing had changed. He was only an NPC in a game, after all.

I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

I thought about how much Arlen had suffered though his life. Losing himself in his work. Missing his daughter’s birthday. Surviving through atomic fire when the ones he loved didn’t. Wanting to die, but living for centuries with nothing but memories and his work to sustain him. Then, through this chain of random happenstance, after a complete stranger discovered an undamaged holotape in a super-mutant-filled toy factory and chanced upon the Slog, giving him a chance to hear the voice of his long-dead wife and daughter one last time…

A stray bullet took his life.

But maybe, just maybe, he finally reunited with Marlene and Cheryl in a better place.

That’s my headcanon for Arlen. That’s why I play Fallout and Bethesda games. While some of their stories are hit and miss, it’s the connections of those stories to incidents of gameplay that make moments special. The Fallout world may be uncaring and dark, but human connections of love endure through the radiation.