Generations upon generations have grown up in its less than welcoming metal walls illuminated by lights that acted as an artificial ‘sun’. The food was always packaged, the water was always clean, and the Overseer was always watching. The security of the vault struck fear into the hearts of its residents instead of making them feel safe. Some of the officers had an exception, but more or less, the Overseer and his faithful dogs of a defense made the underground chamber feel more like a prison rather than a safe haven.
People didn’t mind it too much, however. They preferred to be protected in a vault because they were too frightened to face what had become of the outside world. Propaganda of how dangerous the wasteland was filled the halls and rooms of Vault 101. Children were taught that the vault life was the only way of life and that outside of its sanctuary was a world where radiation, rabid remnants of what were once humans, and giant animals ruled. That was obviously true, that the radiation has transformed things into more dangerous versions of what they once were, but it wasn’t impossible for the human race to survive out there.
Civilization was being rebuilt right under the noses of the many vaults that scattered America. Granted, it was at an extremely slow pace, but it was progress. They reconstructing towns, gathering groups of people to reform colonies. It wasn’t the lavish lifestyle that were read about in books or seen in old photographs, nevertheless it was something that we needed to hold onto. I knew about all of this and it excited me.
I was so exhausted of living a life in a cramped underground, metal mole nest. I hated the dictatorship of what people called the structure of our vault. I hated how we lived like mindless zombies, controlled by the Overseer. I wasn’t exactly sure of what I would find if I actually managed to escape this cage, yet I was prepared for it. I wanted to face danger, I wanted to be able to survive off of nothing more than my wits and brawn. This was because I desired to live an adventurous lifestyle. A life without a long list of useless rules that someone else made. I wanted to live and follow by MY rules. This life of hiding in the shadows, this life of being scared of everything involving the outside world wasn’t a life at all for me.
I’ve read hundreds of books throughout my childhood involving the old world. I understood how these wondrous things called trees would provide the air we breath, wood, food, and even homes for animals when they weren’t overgrown and radiated. The evolution of technology, science, literature, and cultures fascinated me. How empires could be as easily abandoned as they were built. I even dove into the complexity of the war that destroyed what once was. All of this information was provided by my parents, who sadly had disappeared a while after my birth. It filled my head with all of this magnificent knowledge. I knew that I wasn’t meant to be cooped up, I knew that I longed to be free deep down inside. I knew that I needed to escape this horrible vault, the only thing was… I didn’t know how.
Many had tried to escape before, but there had been no success so far. The guards were always too quick for them. I needed a plan, something to help me achieve this goal I’ve held dear for so long.
Ever since my parents disappearance, I was adopted by my father’s closest comrade, James. He had a daughter around my age by the name of Teralyn and we had become close the moment we met as infants. Her mother had died of childbirth and she had been raised without a mother figure throughout her life, nonetheless she still had her father.
James was a doctor in the vault and had met my father when he first arrived from the outside, his newly born daughter in his arms. The other residents took time to get used to the newcomer and the main reason he was even allowed in was the fact that he was a physician. He had something to offer to the Overseer and his little vault community that was of use. My father was the first to welcome him with open arms and help him adjust to the lifestyle and somewhat hostile comments of the others. They did not trust him and were worried he would bring harm to Vault 101. It took a few years for everyone to realize that he posed no threat.
Once I was able to speak and found my love in the world beyond, I constantly pestered him. This was a few months after I lost my parents at the age of eight, and I had begun to live with James and Teralyn. I consistently asked him questions about life before he arrived in the vault and how people were able to survive. He managed to find valid excuses to pass the questions off or he would change the subject unless I somehow managed to worm an actual answer out of him. Even then, it wasn’t as detailed as I hoped for. It was usually short and sweet, giving me close to nothing at the end of these particular conversations.
For some reason, the man would grow somewhat tense when I would ask such things, especially if Teralyn was present. I knew he loved me to some degree, but it was obvious that his true love and devotion went to his actual daughter, not one who was in no way related to him. He would seem worried as well, as if Tera would somehow be influenced by my intensive knowledge of a place I had no personal experience over and begin to talk about escaping. That was why I was forbidden of speaking such things to her. James wanted her to stay in the vault for her own safety. I wasn’t exactly sure if he wanted the same for me, however.
It had recently been my nineteenth birthday. Nineteen years in this miserable rabbit hole of a home, and I was currently working with one of my favorite people in the vault: Stanley Armstrong. As per the results of the G.O.A.T., or the Generalized Occupational Aptitude Test, I was assigned the duties of a Pip-Boy programmer. Taken around the age of sixteen, the G.OA.T. asked questions that decided your lifetime career in Vault 101 based on your answers. According to my results, I was destined to be a Pip-Boy programmer and eventually a mechanic in general.
A Pip-Boy was a handy-dandy little wrist device that was worn like a watch, but was much bigger. It provided many things and services to its owner and I was large and in charge of keeping the people happy with the ones they owned, since it was an essential accessory to vault life.
Teralyn had succeeded in becoming a doctor’s assistant in her G.O.A.T. results. It was pretty obvious that this would definitely win brownie points regarding her father, all the same I could care less. I was happy to be dropped into the career and I was happy to be working alongside Stan.
He had actually given me my first Pip-Boy 3000 when I turned ten and received my first vault duties. He had also taught me almost everything I know about repairing things and how to work with machinery. It was also a convenient job since it offered many learning experiences not only in technology, but in science. While Tera was learning how to properly treat a wound, I was learning how to construct robots out of scrap and the many chemical reactions regarding what could fix what, what could dissolve what, so on and so forth. It wasn’t as glamorous as a doctor, but without proper repairs to the innards of a vault, the whole structure would fall apart.
Stan was currently in deep details about a story involving a light malfunction as I was waist deep in robot guts, working on fixing a few of the hallway cameras. It was amusing to hear his stories and it was nice to have someone who wasn’t too smart for you or too ignorant to have a decent conversation with. Over the past few years, he had been more of a father figure than James, as hard as that may be. It was a nicer, less judgemental environment around him. Or that is what it seemed like. Around James, it always felt like he would carry Teralyn on a high pedestal while I had to work my fingers to the bones just to get a bit of appreciation. With Stan, he always praised me on my accomplishments and scolded me properly if I messed up. He always told me not to take James lack of notice to heart, that he was just more focused on Teralyn because her mother had high expectations, however that wasn’t very convincing to me.
The cameras I was working on had been malfunctioning for quite some time. They helped security keep an eye on the ongoings of the vault halls and it was extremely essential to keeping the peace. My mind began to wander as I searched for the problem with these surveillance cameras and Stan instantly snapped my attention back into perspective when he tapped my shoulder, “Rowan, someone’s here to see you.”
I looked up from the pile and turned my gaze to the door. Teralyn was standing in the doorway, her white lab coat hung from her shoulders. I slowly stood up straight, “Oh, hey Tera… Why are you here?” She held a small metal box in her hands and I recognized the pattern to be a lunchbox. She smiled softly and walked inside at Stanley’s invite, “H-Hey, Rowan.. I brought you something to eat since I had some time off from the medical ward.”My brow raised in question as I wiped my hands off on my vault jumpsuit. I walked over and opened the lunch box to see an array of different foods, all of which were my favorite. Teralyn was sweet to me and considered me a sister even though I wasn’t blood related. I never said that I didn’t like Tera, I just didn’t like how her father focused more on her when I was a person with needs and wants too. The good thing about her was that she did. She recognized my emotions and was constantly there for me. In fact, Stan and Tera were basically the only two people that kept me from trying to leave the vault.
A smile cracked among my lips as well, “Thanks, Tera. I was getting a bit hungry.” I noticed how her eyes lit up and she seemed relieved, I chuckled gently, “How’s work going today? Anything interesting happen?” The blond-haired woman sighed and shook her head, “No… I seriously wish I could’ve gotten the same job as you. It’s so boring over there unless someone comes in. Even then, it’s usually because they’re just sick with the flu or something. Here you can play with robot parts, fix things, and at least have something to do besides write a bunch of uselessness down.”
“Well, that ‘uselessness’ could possibly save lives in the future.” I rolled my eyes and looked back into the lunchbox. Tera chuckled lightly, “I highly doubt it, but I should be happy to be working with my father.” I walked back over to my workbench, setting the food down before looking to Teralyn, “How’s James holding up?”
“You know you should really start calling him father too… Or at least dad.” Tera huffed softly as I frowned, “Why? He’s not my real dad and he seems to care more about you anyway.” She gasped softly, “Rowan… You know that’s not true! He loves us both the same and gets hurt when you call him James instead of dad. He just wants you to like him!”
“I do like him, just not in the way he wants… I consider us good acquaintances.” Tera’s cheeks flushed a light red as Stanley watched us in silence. She continued, “You are so stubborn! He actually cares about you and you don’t want to believe it!”I frowned deeply this time and I walked up to her, looking into her eyes, “No, I don’t believe it because it isn’t true. Tera, you know he cares for you more. You know he holds you to higher standards while I basically get to do whatever the hell I want. You perform a successful surgery and you get praised, you get celebrated. I somehow manage to fix all the vault’s electrical and hydraulic problems for years to come, and what do I get? A pat on the back at most. Fuck, I could leave this vault and he wouldn’t care!”
Teralyn’s eyes widened, “Leave the vault?” I paused for a moment, but I was already fired up. I needed to tell her this, “Yes. Leave the vault. I could leave and go out into the wastes and he would not care. He wouldn’t lift a finger to try and get me back. If you were to leave, there would be mass chaos. No one cares about me here except for Stanley.”
She glared at me, “Rowan! You are so ignorant to the truth! Father cares about you too and so do I! Stop being such a stubborn mule and just believe me. This isn’t what mother would’ve wanted.”
“YOUR mother.” I corrected with a vicious tone, “She is not mine.” I turned back around on my heel as Tera stormed off, out of the room and back to the medical ward. ‘She’s probably going to tell James..’ My mind sighed deeply as Stanley finally piped up from his silence, “Are you alright, Rowan?” I nodded, returning to the camera's, “Yes.. I’m fine.” I resumed my work, contemplating to myself as I kept my gaze to the malfunctioning devices, “I know… I know what I’m going to do.”
Stanley raised a brow in question, “What is it?” I looked to him with a determined gaze, “Do you know where these cameras are placed?” The balding man nodding, “Yeah, they were around the entrance to the vault. Too many people have tried to escape and shot the poor things up… Why?” I briskly walked up to the map of the vault we had pinned up to the wall of our workshop, “Because…” I took a red marker and began to mark the hallways I knew had missing surveillance because the cameras were here, a few moments after I started, Stanley marked the places he knew and soon I noticed a path. “It’s all so simple…” I mumbled and Stanley grew confused, “What is? Rowan, what are you planning?”
I looked at him with the same gaze as before, “The other people who tried to leave didn’t have a plan… They just ran head first into danger. If you notice here…” I gestured to the path of missing cameras, “These areas currently don’t have working cameras. The only thing that is patrolling it are a few of the security guards and if I know anything about them, it is easy to sneak past them if you know how and where to go at the right moments…” I looked at the entire layout this time, “The air vents are above the ceiling and I’ve been in there before. They are big enough to fit me and even a few items.. The only problem is the time.”
Stanley’s eyes widen, “Oh god, you can’t be talking about escaping the vault? It’s a suicide mission!” I nodded, “I am well aware of that, but… I can’t take it here anymore Stan. I need to go out there and experience the life I’ve always wanted.”
“Rowan, you’re being too dramatic… You can’t just up and try to leave after a small fight like that! It doesn’t make sense.” I thought for a moment and sighed, “Stan, I…”
“Promise me that you will not leave. You don’t know what is out there and even if you make it out, where will you go?” Stanley questioned and my eyes widened slightly. He was right, where would I go? With a tense expression, I nodded once more, “Very well… I will not act out so dramatically over such a small thing.” He seemed to relax a bit and returned to his own work. A few hours later, he looked at the time and stood up, “It’s time to go home... Now, no brash decision making, okay?”
“Okay.” I looked down to my feet and picked up the now empty lunchbox as I left the room, Stanley giving me his goodbye as I entered the hallway. I returned the goodbye and dragged my feet down the hall, completely prepared and aware of what I would go home to. I made it to the compartment that I shared with James and Tera and as the door slid open, it was no surprise to see James standing there a few feet away from it.
As if these words had etched themselves into my mind, he said, “We need to talk.” I knew exactly what this was about and seeing Tera in the corner, looking at me with a soft frown, only proved my answer even further. James leaded me into a more secluded room, the one he always brought me to when I was going to get yelled at or punished. He never really yelled at me however, he just spoke in a harsh tone.
Once Tera was out of sight and hearing range, he began the same way he always did, “What were you thinking?!” I put on my usual expression during these situations that always let people know that I wasn’t scared of fighting or talking back, “I was speaking my mind.”
James scowled, “You cannot keep talking about leaving the vault. You know how dangerous that is when the Overseer is always watching. You can get into serious trouble!” I scoffed and crossed my arms, “Yeah… Because you’d actually care if I got into trouble. As a matter of fact, you wouldn’t really care what happens to me. I could basically do what I want, get in all sorts of trouble and you would do nothing to help or stop me.” My body trembled gently with anger, “The Overseer himself could come and take me away and you wouldn’t lose a night's sleep over it. If it was Tera… It would be a completely different story.”
I knew that this was going to happen again. I knew that we would clash horns about such things again, but this time I wasn’t going to hide all of my feelings back. I was going to tell him what had been lingering in the back of my head for what seemed like forever. I usually tried to instantly duck away from him and hide in my room, but not this time.
He took a step forward, “Rowan, I’ve told you before. I love you just as much as Teralyn. I made a promise to your father that if something were to happen to him and your mother, that I would take care of and love you as if you were my own. You just don’t want to accept the truth.”
My heart stopped and my chest tightened in a horribly painful way. That was what set it off. People have told me that before, that I needed to accept ‘the truth’, yet this was what managed to detonate the ticking time bomb inside my mind. I was planning to go about this is a calm and collective manner and that was not going to happen. My emotions got the best of me and instead of being ‘calm and collected’ my rage built up and overwhelmed my conscience, causing me to lash out.
“Accept the truth?! That isn’t the truth! The truth is that Teralyn is your prized daughter while I’m the adoptive one who has to work my ass off to get a bit of praise! She is obviously the favorite and I don’t even have to point out why!” James opened his mouth to say something with a shocked expression, but I continued, “Admit it! She’s become exactly what you want and I’m just a nuisance because I had to come into your life with my ‘useless’ knowledge of the outside world. Why? Because you’re so terrified that Tera will actually listen to me and leave!”
“You have no idea what is out there, Rowan. That is what I am worried about. I don’t want you or Teralyn to get killed. The world is no longer what it is in the books you’ve read. The wasteland is nothing but a bare landscape with raiders, mutated animals, ghouls, and horrible radiation. You can’t leave the vault, I promised Tera’s mother and your father that I would keep you both safe. You could get slaughtered out there. Vault dwellers are not used to that sort of lifestyle.”
I puffed out my chest slightly in defense, “You wouldn’t know that… You don’t know anything about me.” I took a step back away from him, “While you were teaching Tera to shoot, I learned by myself because you assumed that I didn’t want to. While she was learning how to properly treat a wound at the age of twelve, I was quietly watching because you assumed that I didn’t want to learn, that I wouldn’t be interested in such things. I’ve learned how to build things with practically nothing! I know what is out there and I am prepared for it. You just assume that I don’t because you’ve never paid as much attention to me as you’d like to think.” I began to tear up, “All I wanted was for you to pay attention to me too… Teach me how to shoot and how to treat wounds… Give me praise… Treat me like an actual daughter rather than some adoptive doll. That is what my father would’ve wanted.” I rubbed my eyes, “But, you’re too busy assuming things about me that you never actually paid attention to what I really wanted…” I turned away from him to leave the room we were in to escape into my bedroom. James then took this moment to speak, “Rowan… Is that how you really feel?” I nodded in reply, “Yeah, it is. You’ve never really been as great of a dad to me as you’d like to think.”
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize that was the truth. I always assumed that you were happy being by yourself.” I huffed softly, “There’s that word again… Well, you guessed wrong. I needed to emotional support of a father or a parent at least and you were rarely there.”
His expression grew saddened, “Rowan, I didn’t know… Please, let me make it up to you! I promise for now on I’ll make sure to pay more attention to you and teach you all that I’ve taught Teralyn.”
I looked back at him, my eyes filled with tears, “You didn’t know because you’ve never bothered to ask and it’s too late for all of that.” I continued on my way to my room, “I am not a little girl anymore. I am a woman and I’ve taught myself everything that you failed to teach me. I don’t need your sympathy or your apology.” Entering the safety of my room, I locked the sliding door so no one would be able to enter. I curled up into my bed and layed there for what seemed like hours till I rolled onto my back. Staring up at the ceiling and how the artificial light lit up the entire room. It felt so alien, so unnatural.
The layout of the vault reappeared in my mind. It stained in my memories and it wouldn’t leave no matter what I did. I stirred, pondering everything that my life had been based on so far for the millionth time. The metal walls, the horribly intimidating security, the boxed food. I’ve had enough of it and I knew what I was going to do. I was done being held under such strict rules. I was fed up with trying to impress my adoptive father and keep both him and Tera happy. I wanted my own life, my own choices, and the ability to whatever the hell I wanted. I know I told Stanley that I wouldn’t… But, I did not promise him.
I sat up and looked at the clock in my room. Jesus, it had been about two hours since the argument with James. It was supposedly eleven at night and mostly everyone would be asleep. My heart pounded quickly, “Do I really want to do this?” I repeatedly asked myself and each time my heart and my head replied with the same answer. Yes, I really did. I wanted to be free of this cage. Sliding out of my bed, I knew that I would need to formulate a plan. I needed to take a few days to come up with a way to escape without getting killed. Taking out one of my notebooks from my drawer, I opened it up and began to write down a checklist to help me start.
One: Retrieve a map of the vault with the locations of the missing cameras marked down. I knew exactly where to get that and it was close by. It was obviously my workplace since the map was right above my workbench. I had previously marked all of the areas missing cameras earlier in the day and it would be easy to get without anyone caring about its absence. This was because it was my map and people would just think that I was using it to mark down any other areas of the vault with any malfunctions.
Two: I’d need to know the pattern of the guards’ hall patrols. Even when the residents were asleep, the Overseer’s dogs were following their set path around the halls. It would be much easier for me to sneak by if I knew exactly who would be patrolling where and when.
Three: Supplies are a necessity. That was one of the obvious ones. I would need at least the basics of supplies till I was able to find one of the many settlements out on the wastes. Food, medicine, maybe even a weapon. God, it would feel much safer to escape with some sort of gun. An old duffel bag would be what carried this all. It was an worn, old-world item, but it would be more than enough.
I scribbled like a madman against the paper, writing down things I would need to gather and do, charting out all my actions in case I were to encounter a guard along the way. Bit by bit, I was formulating a plan that would earn me my freedom, or my death. I quickly lost track of time and after hours of work had passed, my body refused to move another muscle. I slowly collapsed against my desk and gave into the sweet embrace of sleep, awaiting for the next few days to come.