An outcast. An untouchable. That was I, after being evicted from Diamond City as a result of me not being able to adhere to the common norms of society. Not having a place to call home anymore drowned rational thought and the will to take any measures to improve the situation. The feeling of desperation incrementally incapacitated me.
Facing the unknowns and surprises of the wasteland, finding strength in numbers is absolutely necessary for survival.
After sitting outside the gates, pouting for a while, I noticed a provisioner just finishing her business in Diamond City. This looked like a person able to handle herself, who had a purpose and somewhere to go. With the dreadful wasteland of the Commonwealth in front of me, combined with the need to find safety in numbers and having someone tell me what to do, I decided to approach her.
Halfway there a lightning shock of anxiety struck me and I yet again stood paralyzed. I became physically unable to initiate contact with this person. Maybe it was the risk of making a bad first impression. Maybe my excessive drinking and drug abuse in the city had impaired my social skills to the point where I couldn’t talk to anyone “normal” that wasn’t inebriated, dazed or any form that couls hold me responsible. My awkward compromise with myself was then to follow her at a distance like a stalker, and not a very good one. My impulse control would normally stop me from following a stranger, much less into the anarchic wasteland, but not this time.
As she continued her route, I could not avoid noticing the confident, elegant walk, paired with a strong, resolute stature. Equipped with a set of heavy combat armor, a lazer rifle and part of her face covered by a skull-motived bandana, most attackers would re-evaluate their plans. The pack brahmin following her was heavily loaded too. All in all, well equipped for tackling the confrontations of the wasteland.
Next stop on her route was a place called Hangman’s Alley, sporting a couple of hanged raider corpses near the entrance, making it fairly uninviting. This off-putting facade served a purpose. A warning to any potential raiders, squatters and other trespassers carrying unhelpful intentions.
Inside the gates, the place warmed up a bit. It was an attempt at a civilized trading hub of sorts amidst the chaos in the city, with a busy market, the smell of cooked food, lighting and a few defense measures to protect them from undesirables. It was still a hard environment though. Having to fend off daily attacks with nothing but a loosely organized militia consisting of traders made people here rough and on edge.
During my reconnaissance I lost sight of my “travelling companion” for a moment. Enough to trigger an anxiety attack that made me realize I needed her. Being alone and not having her lead me, somewhere, anywhere, was unthinkable.
During carrying out her duties as a provisioner, loading off and on supplies, one guy made an “advancement” upon her which she handled with what seemed routine. A swift kick that took him out of the gene pool and a flurry of punches that altered his bone structure enough for him not to get up anytime soon. All this without her saying a word.
No one seemed to feel any need to involve themselves. Most of them ignored the commotion, some forcibly turned their head away, others looked at her with admiration. I was part of the latter group.
This was clearly not the first time she made her point. She wanted to be left alone, and the people here knew that.
She carried on to ready the cargo for her next destination, with no unnecessary social interactions. This little event revealed a new layer to this individual I was following. One of several more, hopefully one of them would not result in my demise and rather take me safely to my next destination, wherever that may be.
We left Hangman’s Alley in a southward direction, at least from what my broken inner compass could tell. “We” would be decorating the situation, as I still covertly walked far behind as usual, but maybe in a less shy and more obvious way now. Even though I hadn’t exchanged one single word with her, not even met her gaze, I felt safe in her presence. That she was one of the good guys.
We only got to walk about 20 minutes before we stumbled upon a raiders nest. She could have easily walked around it, but seemed determined to check it out. Maybe she had some unconventional deal with the raiders? Some business on the side to make a bit of spending cash?
My suspicions were way off. These raiders were going to die.
She required only a few seconds of planning time before making the first strike with deadly precision and efficiency. The first raider found his end in a window sill with a swift, pinpoint accurate laser beam burning through his cranium.
A second raider chose a more direct approach and ran towards her with a sword ready to strike. Her response was lighting him on fire with the laser rifle (apparently they do that) and cracked open his cranium with the butt of the rifle.
Two or three raiders remained. I couldn’t tell exactly how many. The terror I would normally have felt in a situation like this was relieved by observing her finesse in battle, a reassuring delight. She switched covers rapidly to confuse them, hitting from several angles to give an impression she was a team of attackers. It might as well been a team. She was coming down on them with the effectiveness of a trained urban police squad.
The last remaining raider, realizing the odds weren’t in his favor, dropped his weapon and made a run for it. She picked up the sword left by his comrade and ran after him. With an adrenaline filled sprint, she caught up to him, parted his head from his shoulders and left the blade in his back. With the dance of death concluded, she walked calmly away.
There was no hesitation in her actions. She removed them from existence, like they were unnecessary elements in the wasteland. Nothing more, nothing less. There didn’t seem to be any sadistic motives behind it, she just wanted them gone.
Unafflicted by recent events she headed onwards again. I wondered how she could just carry on like nothing happened. Not even a nervous twitch. This person, left unanalyzed, would understandably leave the impression of a cold-blooded killer. But there was something about her, something that deviated from the behaviour of a psychopath. Not by much from what I had seen so far, but there was something. Traveling further into even more dangerous areas with a psychopath would have given me the opposite of a sense of security.
The further we got away from the perpetual chaos in the city, the more ear-deafening the calm in the desolate wastes became. At least in the city my mind was preoccupied with the constant lingering threat of death. But out here, in the barren wasteland, the lack of stimuli paired with an overactive imagination tested my mind in a flirt with madness. Not sure which of them I preferred. The only equivalent I had to an insurance against insanity was my fascination for this particular provisioner.
I’m not sure what triggered it, but I decided that my cowardice wasn’t going to decide the distance between me and her. I took a deep breath, mustered the small pinch of bravery I had in my body and picked up the pace. I walked past her and continued for about 20 meters before I stopped and turned around while figuring out what to say or do.
This proceeded to be the most awkward meet and greet in history , or so it felt. I tried to make it look like this was the first time I saw her. She walked up to me as calm as ever, stopped for a few seconds to see what I wanted. Panic struck and I effectively became a mute. She lost interest and was about to walk past me when i blurted out rather inelegantly:
“Hi! I’m a picture. I mean, can I take a picture of you? I’m a reporter. I’m taking pictures of interesting things in the Commonwealth”
It immediately dawned on me that I had just called her an “interesting thing”. Worried she might provide me the same fate as the guy in Hangman’s Alley, I froze.
She looked at me and silently gave me a second chance so I could rectify the moment. She showed no signs of impatience, just politely waiting.
I decided to come straight with her, feeling the embarrassment warming up my face, and said “I’ve been following you for a while”. She responded “I know. You have followed me since Diamond City”, leaving me dumbfounded. I didn’t know how to respond, I just stood there, trying to decode the situation.
“You’re welcome”, she said with a tiny smile, barely visible through the bandana. And by that, the situational awkwardness created by me was defused.
I asked her why she didn’t say anything earlier. She looked me in the eyes for a few seconds and replied “We have to get moving” in a mellow, relaxed voice. And like that, we were officially a team. At least that’s how I interpreted it.
We walked at a steady rate. No talking, just walking. I felt a bit uncomfortable with the silence at first, but as I saw she enjoying it, I became more and more accustomed to it. Not having to fill every minute with meaningless chitchat was liberating. I hadn’t felt that relaxed in a long time, if ever. The innate need of bonding through endless conversation was satisfied by a consensus of silence. We seemed to know where we had each other.
The tranquility was interrupted by gunshots in the distance. We picked up the pace, or more precisely, she did. I just tagged along, copying her every act as I had become accustomed to. Her tempo increased the closer we came to the action.
When we arrived at our next wasteland performance, consisting of us and two provisioners versus a group of super mutants, my teammate rushed towards the towering super mutants to aid the cornered provisioners. A commendable act, and foolish if one didn’t inhabit her abilities.
The provisioners looked exhausted, and beyond grateful for the extra manpower. With the bullets raining around us, my companion took charge. I was about to learn that in addition to being a great solo artist in violent confrontations, she also was an exceptional battlefield commander. She handed out orders and organized us as military troops. Her superior tactics enhanced our capabilities to the point where we gained the upper hand, despite being outnumbered.
We removed one after the other from existence, until she suddenly told us to pull back and find cover. We withdrew about a block’s distance and took cover behind a bus. During the commotion, while we were busy with our assignments, she had sneaked behind enemy lines and activated a timed nuke.
Our skirmish ended with a magnificent explosion.
Amid her round of mischief in the enemy camp, a bullet had grazed her arm. The bleeding was not severe, and something she could have fixed herself, but nonetheless I offered to clean the wound, bandage it and apply a stimpack as an act of gratitude. Her smile was a bit more prominent this time.
We rounded up the brahmins and ventured forth, with the hero of the day leading us. The other provisioners automatically accepted her as the leader of this newly created caravan, although it was never requested by her that we banded together and followed her. It just happened naturally, without a word.
After traveling for a while, we reached Jamaica Plains, and the other provisioners broke off in another direction. My traveling companion stopped for a cup of purified water and a place to sit down for a few minutes.
It was late, and I was worn out. However, she got ready to press on. I wanted to ask her if we could get a few hours of rest before moving on, but me not questioning her decisions had worked out well for us so far, so I suppressed my exhaustion.
I collected what energy I had left, put on my brave face and got ready to move on. Clearly having noticed my hesitation, she said “I know, but I have to move on”. I could have stayed at Jamaica Plains, but our partnership had become too valuable to me to lose over a few hours of sleep.
Her motivation for continuously pushing forward had eluded me so far. After sitting for a moment, staring into thin air, it dawned on me. It wasn’t about her. It was about getting the cargo to the destination, to the people in desperate need of supplies. The vigorous liquidation of undesirables were about providing a safer route for other provisioners. This was truly a remarkable woman.
Her selflessness and determination replenished my energy reserves enough to carry on further.
Just outside of town, we got off the road and started wading through a wet marsh. She seemed a bit drained, which is perhaps why she chose to stay off the main roads. It was a quiet night, only interrupted by the occasional oversized bug .
This was probably the longest we had gone without being hindered by any of the different ways the wasteland could say it didn’t want us there. Of course, this was to good to last any extended amount of time.
We didn’t hear the shot, but the bullet hit one of the chests carried by the brahmin, urging us to scramble to the nearest cover. Seeing my ever vigilant companion caught off guard was a disheartening sight. She was distressed, as this was clearly not part of a planned assault from her side. I panicked and started shaking uncontrollably. My reaction made her collect herself and the soldier in her awoke.
She led us from cover to cover and into in a nearby building through a hole in the wall. The brahmin followed close behind. We had stumbled upon a raiders nest with an overwhelming number of armed personnel with bad intentions.They were well entrenched with barricades, sandbags and other defenses. The barrage of gunfire and molotov cocktails diverted us up to the loft of the building. She urged me in a voice-cracking scream to go get the brahmin while she handled the raiders. Getting a brahmin up a flight of stairs is not easy. Luckily, the staircase was wide enough to lead the big animal up the stairs.
We were surrounded. I provided covering fire with a pipe rifle while she surgically picked them off one by one with her lazer rifle. The first phase of the battle, where we managed to kill most of them, was over in a brief manner compared to what came next.
Two raiders remained. One with an impenetrable armor and a weapon that seemed to have a never-ending magazine. The other, an agile character rapidly changing firing positions to keep us in check.
We were at a stalemate.
The hours passed by. We had to take turns keeping watch and fire of a few rounds in intervals while the other tried to get some shuteye. We were lucky if we could sleep for more than 10 minutes at a time because of the occasional gunfire exchanges.
It came to a point where we didn’t bother trying to sleep anymore as it only seemed to deteriorate our constitution further.
She became more conversational during the ordeal. Not by much, but the few things we talked about revealed a reflected and beautiful mind. She was particularly interested in talking about solitude and how much she enjoyed time by herself. Being a provisioner gave her invaluable personal space, and more importantly distance from people’s selfishness, greed, and incessant hunger to be on top of the social ladder.
The lingering promise of imminent death in the wasteland, was in her opinion a better life than living in the brutality of tribal society. A few moments of headspace, as she called it, outweighed the feeling of safety in numbers.
Her introverted nature faded progressively with the degree of personal subjects we touched. Seems like she only needed someone that took the time to hear her thoughts.
At one point, she looked me in the eyes and was about to tell me something I think I wanted to hear, maybe even yearned for. Then she suddenly put her hand over my mouth and whispered:
The bullets from the other side of the streets had subsided. She sneaked up to the brahmin, picked out a fragmentation mine, armed it and placed it on top of the stairs, and lastly, covered it with a blanket. She returned to me and pointed to a mattress on the floor. Suspecting what was about to happen, I dragged it carefully in front of us and put it in an upright position hoping it’s padding and springs could shield us from most of the blast and fragments from the mine.
Someone was coming. We heard barely audible steps sneaking through the rubble downstairs. The stairs made a creaking noise. We froze up, and so did the intruder’s steps.
Well aware that this could be the last time I saw her I whispered:
“I’m glad I met you”
The raider must have heard me and knowing his position was revealed, he ran up the stairs, which triggered the mine.The combined heatwave, piercing roar and concussive blast from the explosion knocked me out.
“Don’t die! Please, don’t die.”
I woke up to a mourning voice that gradually shifted to relief as I came to consciousness. She was worried I had a fatal concussion, and had administered a stimpack and a syringe of Psycho, hoping it would heal my wounds and keep me awake so the concussion wouldn’t kill me in my sleep. During my involuntary nap, she had been alternating between taking care of me and the elimination of the remaining raider. Luckily, the clunky, slow raider was severely handicapped without his agile sidekick and relatively easy to outmanoeuvre.
The explosion left an unpleasant scene. Seeing the decimated raider’s remains covering the blast zone was an unbearably nauseating experience that I feared would stick as a permanent memory. Unfortunately, the pack brahmin had met the same fate, and most of the cargo with it. We salvaged what we could and moved away from a scarring trial I hoped would never reoccur.
While I was worried about not ever getting that gruesome image out of my head, she struggled to hold herself together after losing most of the cargo. The failure of not being able to bring much needed supplies to the colony of impoverished vault dwellers, devastated her. The strongest person I knew, my guiding star in this mess of an existence, was brought to her knees in torment.
My sympathy for her diminished whatever frayed nerves I had. It was my turn to be the strong one. I made a promise to her that we would do the next routes together, as a team.
It revived her spirit enough to get her up on her feet.
Our steps were heavy, but we had to get the small amount of supplies we managed to recover to where they were needed. It felt like we were a team now. Synchronized, with a common goal.
The time we spent covering from the raider’s sporadic rain of bullets brought us closer together. She seemed to appreciate my company. Even though she hadn’t materialized it in a substantiated sentence, her gestures confirmed it in a subtle way.
The clouds cleared up and revealed a starry night sky.
We didn’t need to go far before she stopped. She told me that the end of her route was over at the quarry, about a hundred meters from where we stood. She prepared herself for bringing the unfortunate news to the vault dwellers. I offered to do it for her, but she insisted on doing it herself to get some kind of closure.
The joys of the wasteland were few, and opportunities to find purpose rare. Relying on others to provide a sense of self-worth was unreliable. Providing people what they needed to survive, and clearing the way for other provisioners was her lifeline in an aimless world. She had become my lifeline.
After having stared at the sky for a while, pondering, she turned her head, looked me in the eyes and said:
“I’m glad I met you”
The unforgettable moment was interrupted by a loud hiss, instantly followed by a thump. My friend was shot. She fell to the ground. The bullet had hit her in the chest and penetrated her lung, making her gasp for air. It was an agonizing sight. I was in shock.
In panic, I ran away as fast as I could to avoid being shot as well. I hid in a nearby garage, but needed only a few deep breaths before realising that she needed me, and more so, I needed her.
I ran back to her and managed to drag her onto a wooden cart I found in the garage. There were no enemies in sight, but somewhere the assailant loomed in the shadows, so I pushed the wooden cart, with her on it, as fast as I could away from the immediate area.
In a more secluded location I was able to apply a stimpack and a hastily tied bandage to stop most of the bleeding.
The closest settlement I knew of, with people that could help my friend through her mortal moment, was Jamaica Plains. Her breathing got heavier the closer we got. My lungs were sore and muscles numb, ready to collapse at any moment.
The fear of losing her released regular doses of adrenaline to keep me going.
I managed to get her back to Jamaica plains. It was still night, and I ran around in a panicked state looking for a doctor. When I finally found one, he was asleep and the smell of bourbon filled the room. I dropped a bottle on the floor to wake him up. To my great relief, he had slept off most of his buzz and woke up easily. He agreed to help in return for my friends armor. A small price to pay.
The doctor removed the bullet, stopped the bleeding and injected some standard over-the-counter medications. After the operation, he unaffectedly wandered off while mumbling something about the inevitableness of the wasteland. To him this was just a regular occurrence. To me, it was about saving my only anchor in this cruel existence. For her, it was everything.
I remained by her side, monitoring her vital signs. Her breath got weaker and weaker, and heartbeats slower and slower.
Realizing she was nearing her end, I broke into tears and whispered to her:
“I need you.”
I hoped that by repeating these words, she would miraculously heal. But no, the cruelty of the wasteland does not offer any miracles, just death and despair. Where the rare and short-lived feeling called happiness is guaranteed to be followed by a taunting laugh and a descending spiral into further darkness. I was naive to have thought this friendship to last.
I will never forget it. Her last exhale. She was at peace.
Nerves, muscles, mind. Relaxed. Peaceful. Quiet. Lifeless.
The strong, resolute provisioner in the post-apocalypse was now just another victim to the cauldron of violence called The Commonwealth.
To avoid raiders and scavengers desecrating her body in a grave somewhere, I decided to give it a proper cremation worthy of a hero. I built the pyre in Jamaica Plains next to the church. After lighting the fire, a few people turned up. They asked what the pyre was for, and when they heard my description of the nameless provisioner they immediately recognized her. Their perception of this woman did not deviate from mine. Her actions had affected many, just as she had me.
When the fire died down, the ashes blew away in the wind, recycling her back to nature. It was somewhat poetic. A worthy farewell.
The preceding days felt like a tight belt around my chest. I began to understand the value of solitude. In an environment where newfound companionships are ripped away as fast as they’re created, loneliness is preferable over the hole in the chest, which grows larger every time someone disappears.
The only way to go from here was onwards, for better or for worse. I hoped that by following in my dearly departed companions footsteps, the pain would subside, or at least go from a clamp around my heart to a manageable memory.
I decided to finish her route by trying to recover as much of the supplies as possible before handing them over to the vault she mentioned. It was all but rational, more like an exercise in poetic naivety, but it was a way to honor the provisioner, leader and philanthropist.
Once again I stood alone, but now strengthened, angry and confident.
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