The Beginning Of The End

Laciee Day had it all. The house and family; the white picket fence. But something was wrong… very, very wrong.
The pain was starting to show in her eyes and she was rapidly losing weight.
She gazed out of the bedroom window barely noticing the warmth of the sun on her face. Her mind elsewhere, in a very dark place. How did she get here and how did it all go so awry?

Chapter 1
“You left the fridge door open again.” he said; barely concealing the annoyance in his tone; as he looked back down at the paper he was reading. “What’s the matter with you lately?”
Fuck. She hadn’t said it out loud but there it was again. That word. It was becoming more a more familiar presence in her thoughts and in her vocabulary. It was becoming a word she was comfortable with; enough to mutter under her breath or even out loud when she knew she was alone. It wasn’t like her. Nothing lately was ‘like her’. It was as if she had become someone else when the baby was born.
“Gosh! I’m such a scatterbrain sometimes!” she said, hoping that she sounded somewhat normal.
“Uh huh.” he said absently, still focused on the paper. He was so wound up about the speech he was to give at the upcoming event at the Veteran’s Hall that she was almost surprised that he noticed anything she did lately. And that was a good thing right now.
There were things she really didn’t want him noticing.

She found herself standing in front of the open utility closet, desperately trying to remember what it was she was looking for. Not wanting to attract undue attention, she grabbed a box of Abraxo cleaner and headed back to the kitchen.
“Lovely day, isn’t it Mum?” Codsworth enthused, as she got back to the kitchen.
‘Not now Codsworth.” she muttered harshly. “Keep moving, will you?” she said to the house robot who hovered next to her on his jet of hot gas.
“You’re making the tiles unbearably warm! I swear you’re going to set something alight and burn us all to death someday.”
She jostled past him, making her way to the kitchen cabinet where the liquor was kept. Laciee checked quickly to see how much was left.
“Ugh.” she whispered, looking at the almost empty vodka bottle. She was going to have to take a walk down to the Red Rocket to stock up again. Maybe Hawthorne was home and she could pick up some ‘stuff’ on the way back home. Her ‘stuff’ was starting to run low and the thought of running out completely was starting to make her feel quite anxious. The dog needed to be walked so she could kill two birds with one stone. But first… a cigarette to calm her nerves before leaving.

Laciee lit up and smoked half a cigarette. Feeling a bit calmer, she changed her stale clothes and headed down to Red Rocket. Walking gave her time to think about her feelings (or lack thereof).

She could remember feeling the rush of nervous excitement when Doc Weathers down in Concord told them the news. As the doctor smiled at them across his desk, their hands were clasped together and she could feel Nate trembling slightly too.
Both their families had been going to Doc Weathers for years and it was evident that he’d long since dispensed with the formalities when he addressed them.
“Guys!” he said almost too excitedly. He peered at the terminal on his desk; its faint green glow illuminating his face as he read through the scanner report. “It says here that you’re going to have a BABY!”
He looked up, his face beaming as he faced them.
“Congratulations, you both. It couldn’t happen to a nicer couple.” He quickly gathered his composure and looked sternly at Laciee. “Of course there are going to be some changes to the way you do things, young lady!” he added, in a half-joking manner.
“Yes of course Doc.” she said softly. He knew she was apt to get into all sorts of shenanigans. She was just like her dad – God rest his soul. It never mattered that she was a girl; an only child. The two of them loved all the same things. They’d be content whether they were hiking, hunting or just tinkering with the cars in his converted barn.
For a moment she felt the happy memories brush her like a feather in the dark and then just as suddenly… the dark was all that remained.

Tap tap tap…
She knocked gently on the door, her bottle of vodka in its paper bag clutched in her other hand. “C’mon Hawthorne!” she whispered urgently. The bell didn’t seem to be working and she was trying her best not to draw attention to herself. “Jeez. What a fucking day.” she muttered.
She couldn’t find the dog. Nate pissed her off before leaving for work. Red Rocket had run out of the large bottles of vodka and now she was jonesing on the stoop of the neighborhood chems dealer, trying to look like she was out borrowing cups of sugar or something equally innocuous.
Fuck today. Fuck this. She’d have to come back later for the Med-X. She still had the sample of Psycho he’d given her ‘on the house’ but she’d left it alone. It wasn’t the kind of escape she wanted. Not like the warm embrace of Med-X. Drifting off peacefully to ‘Don’t Give A Fuck Land’ was her preferred destination.
Time to head home. It’d be getting dark soon.

She resumed her short walk back to the house, her paper bag swinging gently in her hand. She was just approaching the house when she felt something wasn’t right. “Oh God.”
Is he back home already? “Fuck.” He wasn’t supposed to be back for at least another hour. The door was already open and he’d been watching her through the window. How long had he been watching?
Even from here she could feel his anger and reproach like tentacles ready to engulf her. Did he see her stop at Hawthornes?

“Whatever it is you’re going to say; I don’t need it right now.” she said in a low voice, hoping her dismissive tone would prolong the inevitable.
“What the hell DO you actually need Laciee?” he lashed out bitterly. “Because I have no idea who you are anymore! We’re losing you. We’ve… lost you.” his voice trailed off into a sigh. “I don’t know, okay?” she replied, “All I know is right now I need time to figure things out… inside myself. I don’t need your judgment or reproach.”
“I’m concerned about you Laciee! You’re withdrawn and I know you’ve been drinking a lot more than usual. I can’t get more than a sentence out of you let alone a whole conversation. And what about Shaun!”

In the short moment of silence, the loudness of his voice was even more apparent. It hurt her head. She wondered if the neighbors could hear. He was talking again but she missed the first part.
“…dammit, Codsworth… the goddamn robot spends more time with him than you do!”
She felt the blood rush to her head. So many conflicting feelings converging. Yeah, The Goddamn Robot looked after Shaun a lot. She didn’t need a reminder of how useless she felt. It was a love/hate thing with Codsworth. She was grateful for the help. The escape. But the worst thing was the way she felt…replaced. Like part of her motherhood had been stolen by that constantly-cheery metal thing with the weird butler voice. Part of her wanted to take him out back and smash him to little pieces with the old baseball bat under the bed. He’d probably fucking enjoy it though.

“Are you even listening??” His tone was lower but somehow venomous.
“If things don’t get better with you soon, I’m calling Doc Weathers. This isn’t normal behavior for a new mother!” He sounded desperate. Frustrated. She felt sorry for him but mostly she was angry. Angry that he’d called her out. Angry for feeling helpless and forced out into the open like a hermit crab being levered out of its shell.
“I’m gonna make some changes.” she said quietly. Anything to get away. Anything to appease. God she really needed a drink. That sounded heavenly. A drink and a fix.

Dinner was an uneventful affair; Blamco with Salisbury steaks and a little bit of the wild lettuce she found while walking the dog the previous day. On top of everything else she was now starting to get really worried about Rex. He’d run off before but usually returned within a few hours. Tomorrow she’d go out looking for him as soon as it was daylight.

The house was quiet. He’d gone to bed because he had work early in the morning. It felt like he was trying to avoid her or give her some space. Perhaps a bit of both.
Codsworth was in the utility room, hissing softly in standby mode while Shaun slept soundly in his crib.
She gazed into the nursery, feeling like a stranger looking in at someone else’s child. An interloper. “Laciee…you gotta shake this. Before it’s too late.” she whispered, forcing herself to go into the nursery, gently sliding the door closed behind her.

“Why?” she said softly to the sleeping infant. “Why can’t I feel anything? Why can’t I be normal?” the tears running silently down her face glistening in the soft light of the room. As the sobs started to shake her body, she backed away as if to escape the sudden onslaught of emotion. Backing away until she felt the closed door behind her; her knees gave way and she slid down until she was sitting on the floor.
She sobbed, her mind screaming through waves of vertigo and self-induced noise. Everything felt weird. The room felt like a prison; its walls closing in on her at first then elongating into impossible dimensions. She felt tiny. Insignificant. She had a sudden, vivid memory of the first time her father read ‘a proper’ book to her. It was Alice. That was it! She was Alice. She just had to remember how to get back to the real world.
“I just gotta find a way back.” she sobbed, collapsing the rest of the way onto the floor. The Real World seemed so far away.

“Hello, Mrs Day. My name is Dr Gryphon and I’m going to be administering your ECT therapy.” he said, looking down on her from above.
Her heart did a horrible flip thing and her mind started racing; trying to remember what happened. She could barely make out the man in the white coat as she struggled unsuccessfully to focus her blurred vision. The last thing she remembered was passing out on the floor of the nursery.

“Mmmmph!” Oh God oh God oh God my mouth!
She felt like she was choking on whatever was packed into her mouth, making it impossible to talk. Or scream.
She struggled to get up; waves of panic smashing into her as she realized she was pinned to the thing she was laying on.

“Your husband is very concerned about you, Mrs Day.” Dr Gryphon said in a soothing monotone voice. “But there is no need to worry.” he added “We have treated many new mothers with nervous conditions such as yourself. You’ll only be here for a week’s worth of treatments and just imagine! You’ll get a week off from doing all that wretched housework!” he said, sounding quite pleased about the whole thing.
He started adjusting the cables attached to her head and she heard clicking as if a dial on a television was being turned. Her mind was screaming, desperately trying to think of a way to stop what she knew was about to happen. Another louder click, this time from the left hand side, followed by an electrical hum which seemed to be increasing in tone and frequency.

“Try to RELAX.” said Gryphon. “You’re only making it worse.”
There was a huge flash and the world went dark. She screamed. And screamed. Screamed until it was a whimper and finally a sigh. She could hear her voice! She heard herself! Oh God. Thank you.
She opened her eyes but the thing in front of her was too close to focus on. She began to turn over and realized it was the carpet in the nursery. She was shaking uncontrollably and sweating profusely. With the back of her hand she wiped away the saliva that had been running down her cheek while she was passed out screaming. “Holy fuck… that was fucking horrible.” she said softly.

“Where are the damned cigarettes??” she asked the empty room. She’d downed a half glass of neat vodka but she still had the shakes. There was no way she was going to get any sleep after the nightmare she just woke from.
“Ah, there you are my little ones.” she said to the cigarettes that had somehow found themselves lodged behind the liquor cabinet. “How the hell did you get there?” Did Nate hide them? Or was it Codsworth? “I don’t need your paranoia induced conspiracy theories now, Missy.” she scolded herself. “Right now it’s Laciee time.”

She shook a cigarette out and lit up on the front step. The neighborhood was asleep and she could hear his faint snoring coming from the bedroom. Despite the calming effect of the smoke she was starting to feel panicky again but this time it wasn’t the dream. She was out of Med-X and it was too late to go knocking on Hawthorne’s door. “Fuck.” A fix was all she needed right now but she’d have to tough it out with the vodka and smokes, unless… Suddenly she found herself in the shadows of the carport, digging out her stash from the back of the concrete driveway. She looked down at the Psycho syringe in her hand, debating for a moment. She’d never tried it before but she NEEDED SOMETHING NOW. Anything…

“Ahhhh!” She felt the rush almost immediately. It was like liquid determination, a cocktail of emotions – a feeling of indescribable power. She understood why they gave it to soldiers. She felt fearless. Insatiable. A desire to crush and weaken. She knew it could be a very bad thing if the fervor it induced wasn’t channeled carefully. She decided to clean the kitchen.
She was still cleaning when the sky started to lighten outside with the onset of dawn. She was still cleaning when he woke.

“Hey. You’re up early.” he said, sounding somewhat surprised.
She looked up from wiping the kitchen floor. “Mmm.” she answered, giving herself a second to think. “Pretty much. The kitchen needed a deep clean and why not do it when at a time when no one wants to use it?” standing up to wring the cloth out in the sink. “That way everyone’s happy.”
He looked like he was unsure of what to say for a moment then he smiled. “Speaking of happy… how about we go to The Outpost later? I’ve got the afternoon off and I know how much you enjoy it.” he said.
She was starting to feel pretty tired but that really did sound good. The Outpost was about a twenty minute drive North-East and was a favorite among the outdoorsy types and those in the military. What started out as a shooting range and ammo supply had evolved into a popular adult hang-out, complete with restaurant, gym and her favorite of all: Power Armor suits. There were six stations of the old T-45 models that were no longer in active use available for members to rent by the hour with training for beginners. She loved shooting at the range and running around the Power Armor field, like a huge stomping robot. It took a bit of getting used to at first but Nate showed her the ropes and she picked it up like a natural.
The only thing she enjoyed more was going with her dad to the track where they got to test drive the latest Chryslus Cherry Bombs. Dad… God, she missed him more and more every day.

“Okay.” she said with a tired smile. “I really need some coffee right now though.”
As if on cue, Codsworth put down a steaming mug on the center island. “Your coffee Mum. 173.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Brewed to perfection!”
“Thank you Codsworth.” she said gratefully. She didn’t feel half as bad as she had yesterday. Despite being worn out she felt kind of good. She took her coffee into the nursery and put it on the changing table. She could hear the hiss of burning fuel following her.
“It’s okay Codsworth.” she said, shooing him off. “I’ve got this one.” She turned on the rocket mobile and smiled at Shaun. “Someone’s diaper needs changing! Phew!”
For a moment it was as if the old Laciee had returned. A moment where nothing else existed except the purest bond of mother and child.

“REX!!! Here boy!”
Laciee had gone to see if she could find the dog before Nate left for work but so far her search was fruitless. She called out again; “REX!! Dammit dog, where are you?!”
She up was near the vault that had been recently built behind Sanctuary. Through the chain link fence she saw the entrance lift like an enormous steel gear wheel embedded in the ground. It was scary to think that one day, people might have to bury themselves in underground rooms to escape the unthinkable. There was still no sign of Rex anywhere. “I guess someone’s going to be making some Lost Dog posters today.” she said to herself wistfully.

Rex was a bit of a mystery. He appeared one day when she was five months pregnant with Shaun. She was sitting out back with a drink and a magazine when she saw movement in her peripheral vision. She looked and there he was sitting near the fence, watching her. He looked pretty beat up. She spoke softly so as not to frighten him; “Hey you. Where did you come from?” He wagged his tail a little but didn’t move. “You look hungry, boy.” she continued. “Are you a boy?” She stood up for a better look, careful not to bump her bump on the patio table. “Yes, definitely a boy.” she said. “Now you’ve mentioned food and you don’t even know if you have anything to offer him, smarty pants.” she said to herself as she turned and went into the kitchen.

She came back outside with the mashed up contents of two cans of Cram on a big plate in one hand and her mixing bowl full of water in the other. “You’re going to have to come get it.” she said to the dog. “I could do with the company.” She put it down about five feet away from her chair and returned to her drink. The dog edged closer until he was at the plate. He ate hungrily and drank some of the water. She dozed for twenty minutes and when she woke he was curled up asleep next to her chair. Rex had found his family. Rex had found his home.

The disappointment weighed heavily upon her as she turned away from the vault and began the walk back home. She was exhausted after the crazy night she’d had. She needed sleep. She needed a drink or a fix. Or maybe all three.

“No sign of Rex anywhere.” she said sadly. “I’m going to have to make some posters.”
“It will all work out.” Nate said, not even looking up from his paper.
She felt a wave of irritation and anger at the fact that he seemed so unaffected. “Oh by the way, that Vault Tec representative came by again. I told him he needs to talk to the boss.” he said with a chuckle. “Bastard.” she said, only half joking. “Why couldn’t you get rid of him?”
“Look, Lace…” he began, folding the paper and actually looking at her. “No one wants to imagine having to go underground, but we have to face the possibility of IT happening.” He had his serious face on. “As a military family we get automatic, free admission, so why not just complete the paperwork? I’ve already done mine.”
“Okay okay, I guess you’re right.” she said, sipping her glass of orange juice. She liked orange juice in the morning. These days it usually contained a sneaky shot of vodka to take the edge off.
“It’s just something I’d rather not have to think abou…” she faltered. “What the hell have we done, Nate?” she said, her eyes suddenly full of tears. A sob caught in her throat. “Only crazy people would bring a child into this world, the way things are.”
“Shhhh. Shh. Shh.” he said, trying to pull her close to him.
She instinctively put her forearms up between them, preventing the physical contact. “I’ll be fine she said, pulling away. “No need for all that.”
She started rifling through the kitchen drawer for the stuff to make the posters when the doorbell rang. She slammed the drawer shut, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand as she went to open the door. “Goood Morning! Vault Tec calling!” the man in the overcoat said cheerily as he tipped his hat. Gah. He was too cheery. She wasn’t in the mood. She motioned to him to get to the point. “No sales pitch necessary.” She said, not bothering to conceal her impatience. He looked disappointed. Deprived of his usual routine, he seemed to flounder. She took control of the situation by tugging the clipboard away from him. “Right…” she said “where do I sign?”

Laciee was having trouble falling asleep again. Ordinarily she’d be out like a light, considering she hadn’t slept at all the previous night. She’d worn herself out, putting up ‘LOST DOG’ posters all over Concord and Sanctuary Hills. She’d gone into every shop to ask if they would put a poster in their window. She’d even convinced the curator of the Museum Of Freedom to put one on their notice-board.
The bedroom windows were open and Nate was snoring softly. Despite the cool night air, she couldn’t stop sweating. Her stomach hurt and she felt nauseous. Her leg was shaking; a habit she had developed in her teens. Usually she did it unconsciously while sitting, especially if she was concentrating on work or felt anxious about something. Nate would often complain about how annoying it was when she did it at dinner or while they were watching TV.
But this time it was the craving. She was going into full-blown withdrawal. She had gone by Hawthorne’s house on the way back from putting up posters but he still wasn’t there. She was getting desperate enough to start looking elsewhere, even if that meant visiting places that nice ladies really shouldn’t visit. If Hawthorne wasn’t back by tomorrow she’d have no choice. “Tomorrow.” she whispered in the semi-darkness, “Tomorrow…” She slipped out of consciousness and into a nightmare.

She was walking down to the Red Rocket station when it happened. Just before she got to the Sanctuary entrance, every dog in the neighborhood started howling. No… they were SCREAMING. The sky in the south instantly turned from cool blue to a fiery orange yellow. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. She tried to run but the fireball was already upon her. It was like the sun had suddenly focused all its energy into one beam and it was coming straight at her. The intensity of the light increased in a split second, silhouetting the trees and the bridge. She felt the heat and the shock-wave hit her instantaneously, lifting her off her feet and smashing her to the ground.

Laciee woke; a scream caught in her throat. She was shaking and her side of the bed was completely drenched. “It’s not real.” she whispered. “It’s not real. Thank God.”
Shakily, she put her robe on. She looked in on Shaun, sleeping peacefully in his crib as she made her way to the kitchen. With a lit cigarette in her mouth she unscrewed the half-bottle of vodka. She took a drag and inhaled as she sat on the stool. The cigarette between the fingers of her left hand was almost touching the Formica covered counter top and the heat was starting to make a burn mark. “To the end of the world.” she said to no-one in particular, raising the bottle to her lips.

Laciee half opened her eyes and quickly shut them again. The morning sun was streaming in through a gap in the curtains and she silently cursed herself for not pulling them closed the night before. She was on the very edge of her side of the bed, safe in her own space. Safe from accidental human contact. She turned her head and saw that he’d actually already gotten up. “Ugh… what time is it? Oh shit.” she muttered, flipping back the covers and swinging her legs over the side as soon as she focused on the alarm clock. She stood up too quickly and she had to grab hold of the window sill to keep from falling. Once she regained her balance and her vision cleared she took a moment to assess things. She could hear faint baby noises and Codsworth’s metallic sounds. Okay, things were probably fine. But she wasn’t. She felt so bad that she would have gladly crawled back into bed but the urge to get high was a lot stronger. She didn’t feel like doing anything but she forced herself to walk to the bathroom to brush her teeth. The shower would have to wait. Her hands shook as she squeezed the toothpaste. “God you’re a mess, woman.” she said to her reflection in the mirror.
She needed an excuse to go into town. She didn’t know exactly where she was going to get Med-X but at this point she was more than ready to find another source.

Nate didn’t notice her come into the kitchen. He was sitting at the counter working on his speech that he was due to give later that evening. She tried to act normally although she felt like a bad actress in a soap opera.
“You’re gonna knock ’em dead at the Veteran’s Hall tonight, hon.” she said as she gave him a peck on the cheek.
“You think?” he asked, looking at her doubtfully.
“Absolutely!” she said, hoping she sounded sufficiently enthusiastic. “Can’t believe it’s almost Halloween. Need to go into town to pick up some pumpkins and then finish making Shaun’s costume.
“Okay Lace.” he answered, his brow furrowed as he went back to his writing.

She made a half cup of coffee and switched the TV on. She settled onto the sofa to pass the time until she felt awake enough to drive into town. She would have preferred a vodka spiked orange juice but Nate probably would have noticed her making it. Shaun started crying and Codsworth sounded flustered so she forced herself to get back up.
“Thank you Codsworth, you can go tidy up the living room.” she said softly as she entered the nursery. As she gazed down at Shaun, she heard Nate’s voice from the doorway behind her. “My boy isn’t giving his mother any trouble, is he?” Laciee kept silent, focusing her attention on the baby. “Hey, I just fixed that mobile on his crib the other day. Why don’t you give it a spin?” he added. She turned on the rocket-ship mobile and started talking to Shaun and he soon began to settle down.

“Sir? Mum? You should come and see this!” Codsworth started shouting from the living room. Her heart skipped a beat. She had never heard him sound like that. She turned and ran out of the nursery.
The newscaster’s voice turned her blood cold. “Followed by… yes, followed by flashes. Blinding flashes. Sounds of explosions… We’re… we’re trying to get confirmation… But we seem to have lost contact with our affiliate stations… We do have… coming in… confirmed reports. I repeat, confirmed reports of nuclear detonations in New York and Pennsylvania. My God…”

Nate already had Shaun in his arms when she turned and screamed. “WE NEED TO GET TO THE VAULT! NOW!!!

There was literally no time left. She couldn’t grab anything to take with them because every second counted. “I’ve got Shaun; COME ON!!” Nate shouted at her as he ran out of the front door. For a second she was frozen as she looked at Codsworth and in that moment she felt a pang of guilt and loss. “Stay safe Codsworth.” she said quietly before she too bolted out into the street.

As they took off, a million thoughts were going through her head as her senses tried to process what was going on. She had the urge to grab Nate’s hand and cling to it as they ran but sensible Laciee prevailed. Both Nate’s arms were wrapped protectively around their son and she couldn’t risk anything right now. The street was in chaos. A man’s voice boomed from the emergency warning system urging people to find shelter immediately. People were running towards the path to the vault. The retired couple two houses down were desperately cramming stuff into their car.

As they neared the path to the vault Laciee could see the road to the main Sanctuary Hills bridge had been blocked off by an army vehicle. Soldiers stood guard, herding the throng of people onto the path. A pair of Vertibirds circled overhead adding to the noise and sense of panic.
At the gate to the vault compound, more soldiers, two in full power armor, stood guard. Already a crowd had formed; people without access, begging to be let in. She recognized the Vault Tec representative who had knocked on her door not so long ago. He was arguing with the soldier holding the clipboard. “That’s absurd. I AM Vault-Tec!”
For some reason the soldiers wouldn’t allow him through. One of them began to spin up the minigun he was holding.

“Whooooa! Okay!” Mr Vault Tec raised his arms and backed away. “I’m reporting this!” he shouted as he ran back down the path.
Laciee pushed to the front, closely followed by Nate. Shaun, cradled in his arms, lay sleeping and blissfully unaware of the tragedy unfolding.
“Let us in!” Laciee panted. “We’re on the list!”
The soldier briefly checked his clipboard and confirmed their status. “Let them through.” he said, his eyes never leaving the crowd behind the fence. A young boy stood by himself, his face a picture of fear and confusion.

“Wait! What’s going to happen to all those people?” Laciee asked the Vault Tec security guard who had come to usher them to the vault lift. The guard started pushing them in the direction of the vault. His voice was low but urgent. “We’re doing everything we can, now keep moving.”
Laciee’s mind was racing. Overthinking. She forced herself to focus. She and Nate started trotting up the slight incline. By the time they got to the lift they were running.

“Step on the platform! In the center!” shouted the Vault Tec guard nearest the lift.
There were only five others on the platform. Laciee hoped that they weren’t the last group. Maybe the lift could only carry so many so they were going to keep everyone from trying to crowd onto it. Deep in her heart though, she knew that wasn’t true. The truth was that the eight of them on the platform were part of the lucky few. The ones whose circumstances allowed them a place in the vault.
All at once she had a powerful urge to run back and grab the little boy by the gate. She whirled around to tell Nate she was going to go back when the sky lit up. Instinctively they all put up their hands over their eyes or turned away from the blinding glare. It was coming hard and fast. She grabbed Nate’s arm. Through the waves of nausea and panic came a strong sense of déjà vu.
The guard barked the order; “NOW! NOW! Send it down! NOW!!”

The platform jerked downwards as it broke free of the friction. She momentarily lost her balance and tightened her grip on Nate. The lift seemed to be moving at glacial speed. She could literally see the trail of destruction as the shock-wave raced towards them. Instinctively they all bent over and shielded their eyes as the powerful force rushed over them. She realized that by some enormous stroke of luck the lift had traveled down just enough to save them from the worst of the blast.
The noise and turbulence was disorienting and petrifying. Shaun’s screams were drowned out in the cacophony. She realized that Nate was gripping tightly on to her arm too.

The lift slowly descended and the noise and rush of air gradually lessened.
“We did it. We made it. We’re okay.” Nate said breathlessly. He was as pale as a ghost and was clutching Shaun to his chest. Laciee tried to answer but no words would come out. She put her hand against Shaun’s back. He was sobbing softly.
Just then, bright lights appeared through the mesh of the door as the lift traveled the final few feet to the floor of the vault. It came to a halt with a metallic thud and the mesh door was raised immediately. Two men in blue Vault Tec jumpsuits stood at the foot of a metal staircase in front of them. One of them was issuing instructions but she couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying. Her heart was still pounding in her ears as if it had moved up to her head.

Mr. and Mrs. Whitfield stumbled off the lift just ahead of her. Mr. Whitfield ignored the staircase, staggered a few steps to the left and put his face against the bare concrete wall. “I’m sorry… I just…” his muffled voice reflecting from the hard surface betrayed the fact that he was crying.
The Vault Tec man issuing the orders was beginning to sound a bit irritated. “People…PLEASE move up the stairs in an orderly fashion!”
Still holding on to each other, they made their way toward the stairs.

No need to worry, folks! We’ll get everyone situated in your new home. Vault 111! A better future. Underground!” continued Vault Tec man as if reciting lines for a Saturday morning TV ad. Laciee exhaled sharply in contempt. She was angry and afraid. No need to worry? Was he a fucking idiot?
She was about to retort when she suddenly realized that he was most likely the one in charge. “Probably best not to piss him off, Laciee.” she told herself, stepping onto the steel staircase. She was still shaking. Her nerves were shot and she was now jonesing worse than ever.

As they ascended she let Nate guide her, closing her eyes against the glare of the powerful lights. She could still see the light through closed eyelids; a familiar yellow orange glare… Instantly her brain triggered a replay of the events a few minutes earlier, causing her to gasp and stumble. Oh God… that little boy… In her mind she could see him screaming. They were all screaming. She grabbed hold of the metal stair railing to help steady herself.
“I hope it was quick, little one.” she whispered. “I hope to God.”

“Hey! Stay with me!” Nate’s fingers were wrapped around her forearm and he was shaking her gently. She opened her eyes to his concerned face looking down at her. He adjusted the baby’s position slightly with his other arm.
“Shaun…” she managed to say.
“Shaun’s fine; it’s you I’m worried about right now. I think you might be going into shock. We’ll need to find you somewhere to lie down.” He looked around for someone to call over.
“No, no. I’ll be fine.” she said, as the blood came rushing back to her head. “Let’s keep going.” They kept moving along the metal walkway, through a huge gear-shaped opening and into a receiving area. Laciee was trying to take in everything around her but they were moving too fast for her disoriented mind to process it all.
The thing that stood out most to her was the big sign above the main area. “Vault 111 – Welcome Home!” it boldly proclaimed.
They passed through a little gate and there was a woman waving one of the blue jumpsuits at her.
“Huh? Sorry… I didn’t catch that.” Laciee said, realizing that the woman had just said something to her.
“Take a vault suit. You’ll need to put it on in a moment. Please go with the doctor.” she said, motioning to the man standing beside her.

Laciee and Nate walked beside the man in the white coat, down a dimly lit corridor with various doorways leading off to rooms full of weird chambers. Laciee started to feel even more panicky. They came to the end of the corridor and at yet another room full of chambers. There were pipes running along the walls and the ceiling, feeding each chamber like a blood supply feeding rows of mechanical alien organs. She shivered in the cold underground air as they approached some of their neighbors, already suited up in blue jumpsuits and listening to another man in a white coat who was explaining something to them.
At the end of the row of chambers they stopped. “You need to put on your vault suits and get into your respective decontamination chambers. This one’s yours.” the doctor said pointing at a chamber on the left and looking in her direction. “And this one’s yours.” directing Nate to the one opposite.

“Wait…what?!” The pieces were beginning to click into place. She might be disoriented and deeply panicked but she wasn’t stupid. She kept her voice down so as not to alarm the others. “This isn’t necessary for a simple decontamination routine. Why so many chambers?” She turned and scraped a layer of frost from one of the pipes with her thumbnail. “This is some sort of cryogenic…thing.” she said; her brows furrowed. “What the fuck is going on? Where are our rooms?” she demanded, without letting him answer.
“Laciee!” Nate whispered loudly. “Calm down, it’s okay. We learned about these at work. One of the guys who worked part time in the construction crew, blabbed to us in the barracks. Most didn’t believe him but I saw the way he looked when he told us what Vault Tec were doing. He was telling the truth.” Nate paused and shifted Shaun to the other shoulder. “Look, it’s a way for them to keep us safe until up there is… you know… safe. We don’t have to worry about food and…” he said with a little smile, “We don’t age.”
She felt irritated that he’d smile at a time like this but she also knew that he was trying to make her feel better.

“Is this stuff even safe?” Laciee said looking around at the complicated mess of wiring and pipework. “Who’s tested it? This is Shaun we’re talking about!” She was talking very fast and realized she probably sounded quite mad.
“I assure you everything has been produced to Vault Tec’s exacting standards.” the doctor interrupted. “There is nothing to worry about. We have been in preparation for this day for many years. We have tested the Cryo Pods on many Chinese and they were each as fine as a frog’s hair!” He carried on cheerily. “Haha! You look perplexed. Don’t worry! Just some Vault Tec humor.”
Laciee pretended not to hear and carried on. “So when are we going to be… frozen? Is everyone going to be frozen or just some? How long for?”

“We will each be frozen for as long as necessary.” he replied cryptically “When the time comes the re-animation systems will come online and once the body is at normal operating parameters, the pod will open. We will then be introduced into vault life for the short period necessary to prepare for the outside world. It will then be time to band together and REBUILD!” At this last outburst he swung his arms out and up in a dramatic swoop.
She was reminded of the people she’d seen on those documentaries about cults. Those documentaries fascinated her. The same blank eyes, same animated enthusiasm for the conventions and doctrines.

“Okay, here we go.” said Nate, handing Shaun to her while he stripped to his shorts and put on the vault suit. He placed his clothes and shoes beside the chamber and took Shaun back. Laciee turned away towards the Cryo Pod and slipped off her clothes. The vault suit took some getting into but once it was on it felt snug and safe. She ran her hand over the fabric and it was unlike anything she’d ever seen. It was soft and supple but she could feel nothing through it. No sensation of pressure as she squeezed her arm and her breast. Like some sort of high-tech armor or something. But what for?

“Let’s do this babe. Let’s do it for Shaun. I love you, Laciee Day. Til the end of the world.” Nate’s voice broke as she walked back over to him.
Her words caught in her throat and she felt like she was about to start sobbing.
“…love you guys…” was all she managed, embracing him and Shaun. “Goodbye.” She said, without knowing exactly why.
A shiver ran through her and her stomach clenched in a knot. Thankful for the warmth being generated by the suit, Laciee followed Nate’s lead and swung herself into the Cryo Pod, using the cold metal handles on the sides. There was no cushion on the seat. “Ha! Ice cubes don’t need cushions.” she said with a forced little laugh. Truth be told, she was terrified and she needed a fix so fucking bad. “I guess ice cubes don’t need chems either…” she whispered.
The door swung down on hydraulic hinges and there was a sudden HISSSS as the seals engaged.

Her heart was thumping as she anticipated what was about to happen. She felt the cold begin to wrap itself around her as the temperature plummeted. Her face stung with frostbite as she watched the first crystals of ice starting to form on the edges of the window.

Nate looked down at Shaun and then over at her. She raised her hand and he did the same. He was saying something but she couldn’t make out what it was.
“My guys… stay safe. I love you.” she whispered.
Laciee could feel it getting steadily colder. Something was weird about the air being pumped into the chamber. A sickly sweet ether smell, that made her head swim. She shuddered; a reaction to the ever increasing cold but also she was terrified.
Her raised hand felt like lead. She gave up trying to keep it up, letting it fall into her lap. Her head came to rest on the back of the seat. The last thing she saw was the frost, meeting in the center of the window like the aperture of a camera, shutting out the light. The world disappeared and her consciousness followed.

The Day family slept their dreamless sleep, oblivious to the world. The world went on. Things were different but the world went on.

Voices. A man and a woman. She couldn’t make out what they were saying. Laciee forced her eyes to open and felt a fresh wave of panic. White everywhere. Painful white light filled her entire field of vision and for a moment she thought she’d gone blind.

Gradually the feeling was starting to come back into her limbs and her vision slowly cleared. Her heart thundered in her ears as she began to remember where she was. Searing pain engulfed her and she moaned as her body went through the final stages of re-animation. Her sense of smell returned, hitting her unexpectedly, causing her to gasp and cough. The air in the Cryo Pod stank horribly as the re-animation gasses gradually dissipated. “This is the one. Here.” the woman’s voice was much clearer as two figures came into view through the Cryo Pod window.

They were back-lit by the light from Nate’s Cryo Pod and the rest of the Vault was dark, making it hard to see.
“Open it.” This time the man’s voice. Hard. Imposing.
Her heart sped up as the woman opened Nate’s pod. Laciee was still very disoriented. She tried to talk but couldn’t. Nate was saying something but she couldn’t process it properly. Suddenly things felt very wrong. The woman started trying to pull Shaun away from Nate’s embrace.
“No, wait. No, I’ve got him!” Nate’s voice was loud and clear. The woman wrestled with him some more but Nate wasn’t letting go.

The man stepped forward and raised a large revolver. He pointed it at Nate. “Let the boy go. I’m only going to tell you once.”
“No! I’m not giving you Shaun!” Nate yelled, his face a picture of confusion and anger.
Adrenaline surged through her body as the events unfolded before her. Never had she felt so helpless and afraid.

A shot rang out, deafening as it echoed through the vault. Her heart stopped for a moment and she gasped; a scream caught in her throat. Nate fell back and the woman stood holding Laciee’s child.
Unable to move, Laciee stared in shock as the monster came up to her Cryo Pod window. The monster had a long scar down its face and its eyes were the coldest things that Laciee had ever seen. It looked at her from behind the glass as she sat frozen in fear. The monster spoke before it moved out of sight. “At least we still have the backup…”

Immediately the ether smell returned and the temperature dived.
A recorded voice played over the speaker system; “Cryogenic Sequence Reinitialized.”
Laciee tried to fight the inevitable but it was hopeless. Her vision went white as she faded back out of consciousness.

She opened her eyes. Her head hurt like hell and she couldn’t see properly. Her joints were stiff and she’d woken from the worst nightmare ever. She was so cold. Had he left the window open again? She reached for the comforter but it wasn’t there. She touched a solid surface. It was so cold it startled her, causing her to snatch her hand away. What the hell? Oh God… The memories were starting to come back, like pictures on a badly tuned TV, flickering through the snow and white noise. She sat bolt upright. NATE….SHAUN… OHGODOHGODOHGOD

She pushed against the door of the pod with almost superhuman strength. The latch gave way and the door started to rise agonizingly slowly on its hydraulic struts. With a deep guttural moan she she forced her unwilling body to scrunch down and push through the gap which was now big enough to squeeze through. Her legs felt like lead weights. She took one step and tumbled onto the concrete floor outside the pod.

She staggered over to Nate’s pod and hit the lever to raise the door.
The moan turned to a whimper and then to uncontrollable sobbing.
“My God…” she managed as she let herself fall against him. It wasn’t a dream. Shaun was missing. Nate…
“YOU FUCKING KILLED HIM!!!” she screamed, her voice reverberating through the halls of the vault as she collapsed onto the cold concrete.

She curled up and cried until she couldn’t. Until the horrible notion that her baby was missing… kidnapped… grew larger than the pain of losing Nate. The voice in her head was mentally shaking her, snapping its fingers; SNAP! SNAP OUT OF THIS LACIEE
She moaned. “Shaun…I”
She struggled to her feet and stood in front of Nate. She slipped his wedding band off and closed it tightly in her fist.
“I’ll find who did this and I’ll get Shaun back. I promise.” she said. And with that, Laciee pulled the red lever. The door lowered slowly between them, forever closing his icy tomb.

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