“You’re going to knock them dead at the Veteran’s Hall tonight,” said Nora, running a hand over the smooth flesh of Nate’s shoulder. Her man was looking at himself in the mirror, the far away stare in his eyes looking back at him. Nora had done all she could to make life normal. Her discharge from the service had come back, just a day after Nate received his medical release from the Army. He was looking for work with a local engineering firm, and she was thinking about dusting off her law degree and getting a job herself. Flying had been exciting, but now it was time to get back to the real world, taking care of husband and baby.
Shaun was the most important thing in her life. Much as she loved her husband, she would sacrifice him and herself in a moment to save that adorable child.
“You’re going on right after me,” said Nate, a slight smile tugging at a face that was too often devoid of emotion. “Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.”
Nate had been working on his speech all week, so like the meticulous engineer. While Nora intended to wing it, just as she did most things in life.
“Now quit hogging the mirror. I need to fix my face for the day ahead.”
“Your face doesn’t need fixing, Hon. Still as beautiful as the day I met you.”
Nora laughed as she looked at herself in the mirror. She had to admit that she looked good. Clear blue eyes looking out of a classically lovely face. Shoulder length raven hair, flawless skin, and the same slender athletic shape she had worn her entire adult life. She had recovered quickly from the pregnancy. Her breasts were larger, of course, the reaction of a woman’s body to the needs of an infant. She expected they would shrink back to normal after she was through with nursing.
“Well, I have to admit, I hit the jackpot in the genetics lottery,” she said with a laugh, reaching over and pulling Nate to her, her lips seeking his. She took no pride in those genetics, and the advantages they gave her. Well, maybe a little, but they were a chance arrangement that she had nothing to do with. She took pride in what she did with what she was gifted with. Serving others and enjoying life in the process. “You get back to it,” she whispered, breaking the kiss and turning to head into the kitchen.
“Your coffee is ready, mum,” said Codsworth, floating in the air on his flaming jet as he puttered about the kitchen. “Brewed to perfection.”
She had been leery at first at bringing a domestic robot into her house, around her baby. Exposure to the killers that the militaries of several countries used had made her cautious of the machines. Codsworth had turned out to be a dear, so polite, so helpful. He ran the household with tireless devotion, leaving her time to take care of Nate while researching the future for them both.
Right now that future was up in the air. After generations of prosperity the world was in the midst of a crash. Prices were up, stockpiles of commodities were down. There were profits still to be made, but Nora wasn’t heartless enough to grow rich on the misery of others. As long as they were getting by, and most important, together, she was happy.
“What’s the news, Codsworth?”
“Nothing good, mum. Those pesky Reds are still stirring up trouble. I would have thought after the thrashing you and sir gave them they would just give up.”
Nora shook her head at the naivety of the robot. There was no give up in the Reds. As long as they were a going concern they would cause as much trouble as they could get away with. Well, she and Nate had done their duty. Now it was up to another generation to handle the Red menace.
The doorbell rang, interrupting her thoughts. Taking a sip of coffee she put the mug on the counter and went to see who this pest was. Looking through the small viewing pane in the door she grimaced. That damned salesman. Why couldn’t he just leave them alone.
“You better talk to him, Hon,” said Nate, coming into the kitchen. “You know that kind never gives up.”
Just like the Reds, thought Nora with a grimace, reaching for the door to reveal a smiling face and a trench coat cover body. A homely man, out making a living for himself and family, and she couldn’t fault him on trying to get ahead.
“Vault Tech calling,” he said in a cheerful voice. “I am so glad I finally caught up with you. I have a matter to discuss of the utmost importance.”
“And what could that be?” asked Nora, attempting to keep the sarcasm from her tone and failing.
“Why, your entire future, ma’am. Because of your family’s service to this fine country, you have been preselected for entry into the local Vault. Vault one eleven.” With the motion he was making with his hands and the tone of his voice it was as if the man was describing heaven.
“And just why in the hell should that interest me?”
“I know you are a busy woman,” the man continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “But we are talking about your surviving total atomic annihilation. To put it bluntly, this world is going to heck in a handbasket, if you would excuse my language.”
Fuck me, thought Nora, grimacing. Who talked like that?
“Go ahead and tell him what he wants, Hon. For our peace of mind.”
If it made Nate feel better she would take the moments it took to put their name on the list. Not that she thought a nuclear war was immenent. The Reds were crazy, but in the we want to control every living thing on the planet crazy. Not the let’s kill everything including ourselves sort of insanity. The ones she had known during the war, prisoners mostly, had seemed human enough. Indoctrinated into their hateful creed, but like all people wanting to get on with their lives without people fucking with them.
“Okay. Let’s get this over with. What do you need to know?”
“Nora Jane Slotsky,” said Nora, waiting for the remarks about her Polish ancestry she got from so many Bostonians, ignoring the fact that she was also distantly related to the Royal Family of Great Britain.
“And your married name?” asked the Rep, not mentioning the origins of her birth name. “I have here Nora Jane Adams. Any relation to John and John Quincy Adams?”
“I really don’t know, though Nate’s family makes sure everyone makes that connection.” Just like her own connections, she really didn’t care what mythical heroes someone had in their lineage. A person was what they made of themselves as far as she was concerned.
“Naval Aviator? Fighter pilot? That can’t be correct.”
“I’ll have you know that I was an ace. Shot down a dozen of the antiquated machines the Chinese put up to stop me. And for killing those brave men and women I earned the Bronze and Silver Stars.”
“Thank you for your service,” said the Rep in his pat response. “And you left the service to have a baby? At the rank of Lt. Commander.”
“Correct. And now all I want to do is practice law and get on with my life.”
“Understandable. Now, let me ask you some questions about your husband. Nathanial James Adams, correct? Major, US Army Engineers.”
“That was his service branch and specialty. But somehow, in the infinite wisdom of the military, he found himself leading a company of power armor.”
The questions went on, and Nora started to grow impatient. But the man seemed earnest, and in the unlikely event of total atomic annihilation, it would be good to have a shelter.
“I’m going to run this over to the vault and get you on the list. You should receive adequate notification if it has been determined that you need to evacuate to the vault. But if not, here’s a small map of the location.”
Nora looked over the paper. She had wondered what was being built on the small hill overlooking Sanctuary Hills. Well, now she knew.
“Thanks, Hon. I’m glad you took care of that.”
“Nothing is too much for you and Shaun.”
“You always know the right things to say, don’t you?”
“I have my moments,” she agreed, walking to Nate and wrapping him in a hug. She wasn’t sure she wanted to survive total atomic annihilation. She would for Shaun and for Nate, but if she had been on her own she probably would have partied the coming death away.
“I think someone made a stinky,” said Codsworth, hurrying out of the room and down the hall to Sean’s bedroom.
“I never thought I would be comfortable letting a three eyes robot with a buzz saw for a hand, pincers for another, look after my baby. But he’s been great. Thanks for talking me into getting him.”
Of course, if war occurred, Codsworth would not be accompanying them into the vault. He was almost family, but really he was only a robot. Radiation would not affect him, and he would be puttering around the neighborhood for centuries if left to his own devices. There was also a small service center at the entrance to the neighborhood, where robots could refuel and recharge, courtesy of Robco.
“Mum. Shaun’s changed, but he refuses to calm. Perhaps you can apply some of your maternal affection to the situation.”
“I’ll be right there, Hon,” said Nate, pouring himself another coffee.
Shaun calmed as soon as he heard her voice. She looked down on the tiny form of what had to be the most beautiful baby on the planet, stroking his face, then setting the mobile in motion. While she was playing with her child she felt strong arms go around her, then lips nuzzling at her neck.
“I was thinking that we might go down to the park in Concord, then from there to the Veteran’s hall.”
Yeah,” she said with a laugh, turning in his arms and wrapping hers around his neck. “The park where you got me pregnant with Shaun. You want to keep me barefoot and naked in the kitchen, don’t you?”
“Now that you mention it,” he replied with a laugh.
They spent the rest of the morning kissing and hugging on the couch. Sean made another mess, and Nora was back in with him, watching as Codsworth expertly changed the child. She gave him his formula herself, wanting to gather those memories while they were to be had. And thinking that having another child might not be a bad idea. But not so soon after her first. She wanted to see him grow, take his first steps, say his first words, without another baby calling for her attention. When he was packed off to kindergarten she might consider another. Maybe a little girl.
“Sir, mum,” came the voice of Codsworth from the living room. “You need to see this.”
“Codsworth? What’s wrong?”
“I'll bring Shaun in behind you.” said Nate, reaching down to gather the child in his arms.
A well-known newsman was on the TV, a projected map behind him. “Reports have been verified of a bright flash over Manhattan. Another in the Pennsylvania countryside. My God. They’ve done it. They’ve really done it.”
“We’ve got to be on that targeting list,” said the rational part of Nora, even as her emotions threatened to send her to the floor. Boston was a major port, a Fleet town, with enough of a military presence to make it a prime target. Sirens went off, filling the air with their strident scream.
“We need to get to the Vault, now,” shouted Nate, holding a now crying Shaun in his arms.
Nora started for the baby, but Nate nodded her off. “I’ve got him. Now let’s get there before something comes down on us.”
The neighborhood was in a panic. Their next-door neighbors, a nice lesbian couple, were hauling suitcases out to their car. People were yelling and screaming, while an armored personnel carrier pulled onto the street and disgorged soldiers. Vertibirds were in the air overhead.
“Too fast,” she said to Nate. “The reaction was too fast, as if the military knew beforehand.”
“We can worry about that later,” said Nate, leading the way down the street. “We need to get you and Shaun underground.”
You too, thought Nora, her eyes looking over the hundred odd houses that made up the middle-class neighborhood. Her home, her future. And when she saw it again what would be left?
There were barriers to the side of the street, a path that people were running down. Soldiers were lining the path, some in menacing looking power armor, heavy weapons at hand. Too fast, she thought again. How had these troops mobilized like this? Maybe it was a drill. If so, she was going to give Vault Tech and the media a piece of her mind.
“You got to let me in,” screamed the Vault Tech rep at a soldier with a clip board. Two men in power armor backed him up, and it seemed like no one was going to get through the barrier without his say so. Looking at the fence around the construction yard Nora thought she could get through, and others would try as well. Shots were heard in the background, soldiers using deadly force to impose their wills on the disorderly civilians.
“You’re not on the list, buddy.”
“But I am Vault Tech. I’m going in, and you’re not going to stop me.”
A pistol pointed at the man’s head showed that they were prepared to do just that. The Rep raised his hands and backed off, a look of betrayal on his face.
“We’re on the list,” said Nora, stepping in front of the man with the clipboard. “Lt. Commander Nora Adams. Major Nathanial Adams. And Shaun Adams.” She didn’t know if the military titles were necessary, but she figured they couldn't hurt.
“Ma’am, sir” said the young officer, assuming a brief position of attention. “They’re on the list. Some one lead them to the Vault.”
She took one glance back at the frightened people who were being denied entry. She understood why they couldn’t be let in. The Vault was a controlled environment with enough supplies for a limited population. Letting more in just put everyone at risk. Sucks to be you, she thought, a cold calculation. Her heart went out to them, but her family was more important than friends and neighbors.
The man in a Vault Tech uniform led them to a large metal circle, the lift that would lower them into the vault. There were almost thirty people crowded onto it, many crying, screaming, sure that their lives were over.
“I love you,” she told Nate, putting a hand on his arm, then touching her child. “Both of you.”
“We love you too. We..”
A bright flash to the southwest caught all their attention, followed by the sight of a rising mushroom cloud.
“Oh god. Oh God,” cried Nora. The idiots had actually done it. Ended the world. The analytical part of her mind analyzed the blast and the distance. Twenty miles, it had to be in the megaton range. Probably submarine launched. It would have been worse for the city if it had hit the downtown area. Still, it was going to be bad enough.
The platform lurched for a moment and started to descend, as people began crying out for it to go faster. Their heads were just below the level of the ground when the heat waved hit, trees turning to torches. Moments later the blast front hit, roaring overhead, truly little getting through the closing hatches that were sealing the shaft.
“We made it,” said Nate, calming Shaun. Nora let him take care of the child. She was still in shock, still trying to contemplate what had just happened. The timing seemed off. The troops out in force too quickly. And if they had been submarine launched weapons, why was Boston hit after targets in Pennsylvania. That made absolutely no sense.
“You’re safe now,” said a man in Vault Tech uniform, a pistol by his side. “Welcome to your new home. Vault One Eleven. Better living underground.”
I guess it beats better dying on the surface, thought Nora, watching as several families were led off down another corridor, while some staff members whispered about disposal and not opening the vault for any reason.
“Put on your Vault suit and follow the doctor,” said a smiling woman who was handing out the suits.
Nora recognized some of her neighbors, though none seemed in the mood for exchanging pleasantries. “So, when do we find out what we’re supposed to do here?” she asked the man in a lab coat who was leading them along.
“That will all be covered in orientation.”
They passed several rooms filled with scores of strange looking capsules. Nora thought they looked familiar, something she had seen in a magazine article, or on TV. Something to do with space exploration. At the moment she couldn't pin it down. “So, what are the capsules for?”
“Do you always ask so many questions?”
She thought she was at least as bright as the Vault Tech doctor, scientist, whatever he was. “I just like to know what’s going on when it’s going to affect me and my family.”
“Those are decompression pods. You’ll be going deep, and we need to adjust your bodies to the pressure.”
“Bullshit. What are you going to do, send us to the center of the Earth? And going down means greater pressure, not less. So, what are they really for?”
A woman in one of the side rooms was arguing about getting into her capsule. A needle was produced, an injection given, and her limp body carefully laid in the capsule.
“Any other questions?” asked the man, regarding her with a glare.
“Nope,” said Nora, feeling completely helpless. They were armed, she was not. They outnumbered her fifty to one, and she doubted she would be able to get any of her fellow Vault dwellers, shocked out of their minds, on board with a mutiny. Her and her family were along for the ride, so best to go with it and hope things worked out in the end.
“Now please get into your Vault suits and into a chamber.”
Nora stripped right there in front of everyone else, providing the example, since they obviously weren’t going to allow them any privacy. As soon as she was in her suit she took Shaun, giving Nate the chance to change.
“Can I have him back,” said Nate, a desperate note in his voice, reaching for Shaun like he was a drowning man and the baby his floatation device.
Nora didn’t want to give up the child, but she realized she was much more together than her husband. And as soon as they were through with this capsule foolishness she could have her baby as much as she wanted. Putting the infant in Nate’s arms, she played with him for a moment with her wiggling fingers, eliciting a smile and a coo from the baby. Then it was into the chamber, almost panicking as the door came down, wondering how long this was going to take.
She started to become drowsy the moment the hatch sealed, and her mind made the connection. Cryo pods. What the government was hoping would open star travel to their astronauts. But why would they put people in those here, without any explanation. It made no sense. And then nothing made sense as blackness enclosed her.
* * *
“This one here,” said a woman’s voice, as a figure in a hazmat suit walked into sight.
Nora shivered. So cold. She wasn’t sure she would ever be warm again. Two more people walked into view. One a man in a hazmat suit the duplicate of the first. Another a man with leather armor and what looked like prosthetics on his arms and legs, a large revolver in his hand. He was without radiation or biological protection, and the cigar in his mouth pointed to his disdain of his companions’ precautions.
“Open it up,” he said in a gravely voice devoid of emotion.
Oh God, thought Nora, still trying to get her mind to work. That’s Nate and Shaun.
The hatch rose on the pod, revealing a coughing Nate, still holding a faintly squirming Shaun in his arms. They were both alive. They could all get through this still. And then the woman reached into the pod, her hands grasping for Shaun.
“I’ve got Shaun,” said Nate.
“Give us the boy,” said gravely voice. “Now. I’m not going to tell your again.”
“You can’t have Shaun.”
The pistol came up and spoke, and a large red spot appeared between Nate’s eyes. His limp form sprawled back, while the woman hastily grabbed the screaming baby before it could fall.
“Idiot,” said the man with the pistol, walking over to Nora’s capsule.
Nora was coughing herself, not able to catch her breath, her wide eyes still staring at the scene of horror she could not believe. The man had murdered her husband in cold blood. Kind, caring and courageous Nate, gone in an instant. The man leaned in to look at her through the glass.
“We still have the backup. Mission successful. Put her back under and let’s leave.”
The sleepy feeling came over Nora, and the horror faded, to be replaced by a recurrent dream of her husband murdered, her baby kidnapped.