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Fallout: Vault 186 Ch 2

Below ground wars don't end...they become more personal

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

Katherine Ford; a slim sixteen year old brunette with thin cheeks covering high cheekbones, a small mouth with thin lips, and large eyes that harbored ebony pupils, exited a large classroom that served as the local high school for the upper east bloc of Vault 186. A quick glance at the somewhat large metal device referred to as a personal information processor –or Pip-Boy for short– that was strapped around her forearm revealed that it was already three-o-five in the afternoon.

"I'm late." Katherine groaned.

Professor Henderson had run his lecture forty-five minutes past the normal dismissal hour, which was a normal occurrence in his classroom on Fridays but it was Thursday, and he had then droned on for another fifteen minutes about the importance of history and education in a cruel and twisted act of retaliation after receiving more than a few sighs and groans of frustration from several students, Katherine included. Each second was torture and Katherine had felt as if her eyes had been stuck in some kind of suspended animation; glued to the ceiling from constantly rolling at each of the professor's quips about history repeating itself. He was one of the first to jump at the new source of information about the outside world from the Overseer and couldn't wait to bore Katherine and her fellow students to death with parallels between the Great War and the conflicts between the new factions that had arisen above ground. It wasn't that Katherine wasn't normally a good student because she was…sort of. And she really was interested in the outside world.

Maybe a little interested…kind of. She thought while waving goodbye to a few of her friends.

The professor had chosen a very inconvenient time to change up his routine. At that very moment, a birthday party was being held for a very special person in her life. Worst of all, the most important gift that would be given to the birthday boy was going to be given by her, only she wasn't there to give it. Katherine hoped that his parents wouldn't unveil the gift without her even though she wouldn't be the least bit surprised if they did.

Vault 186 harbored a massive network of grayish, stonewalled tunnels that would, to an outsider, be on par with the ancient labyrinths of Greek legends. Metal shafts, panels, and guardrails were fused and bolted into the stone along with square and circular shaped vents, which allowed the Vault's life support system to operate. Between the metal and machinery were hundreds of different colored lights attached along the walls and ceiling. Some were used for illuminating the halls and others to signify restricted areas or when needed, flash bright red, signaling an emergency. Large rectangular Plexiglas windows that allowed passersby a small glimpse into the many apartments, offices, and workshops scattered throughout the Vault lined the walls between the panels.

Another left turn and Katherine had almost reached her destination. There were three residential areas in the Vault, each harboring around seventeen-hundred citizens. The upper east bloc was notorious among most other Vault Dwellers due to its awkward design. Being the first area of the Vault its citizens excavated for expansion, most of the different rooms, laboratories, and stations, including the apartments had been constructed as needed, which meant almost everything was randomly placed throughout the bloc. Whereas every other bloc harbored a set area for apartments and work stations, the homes of the upper east were clumsily scattered around work stations and storage rooms. Several petitions for remodeling and relocations were presented to the Overseers of past generations but the requests were always voted down by the majority of the residents whose families had felt strong sentimental ties to their homes.

Katherine had more than once considered asking her father to submit another petition but always decided against it although the thought had crossed her mind again just before she finally arrived at her destination. Katherine reached out and knocked on a large gray metal door with a yellow stripe painted down the center. A few moments later the door split at the bottom with a snap hiss; the top and bottom portions of the barrier vanishing into their stone cradles.

All eyes inside the small living space centered onto the new arrival. Katherine chose not to let her embarrassment steal away her ability to walk and instead stepped into the residence with a confident stride. Realizing nothing interesting was going to happen at the moment was enough for all but one of the young preteens attending the party to ignore the new arrival.

"Katie!" The honored guest of the party; a short, twelve year old, slightly scrawny boy with a dark caramel complexion, hazel colored eyes, and black fuzzy hair said with a wide grin. His round face beamed at the sight of Katherine.

"Derek!" Katherine matched the boy's smile with one of her own and knelt down, catching him in a tight embrace after he ran over to her. "How's my little brother?" She asked. "You enjoying the party?"

"I am now." Derek Thomas replied. "Now that I can finally open my presents. What took you so long?"

"Not my fault." Katherine said defensively. "Professor Henderson wouldn't shut up about the new information from the Overseer."

Derek gave Katherine an accusatory glare after they released each other from the hug. "What, you couldn't sneak out?"

Katherine rose to her feet , giving Derek an unamused glare while resting her hands on her hips. "Really?" She said with a chastising tone.

"What?" Derek asked with faux confusion. "You know he never notices anything when he starts rambling."

"I think he would have noticed the loud hiss from the classroom door opening in the middle of his speech, Derek." Katherine countered.

"Says the big sister unwilling to risk capture in order to make it to her favorite brother's birthday party on time." Derek said with folded arms.

"Oh shut up." Katherine smiled. "Let's get your presents."

All of the children and few parents who volunteered to help supervise the event gathered behind Derek who was making no attempt to hide his growing impatience.

"Go on; take your time, sis. Not like I haven't already waited long enough." Derek jeered.

"Derek." A woman standing in front of the stack of wrapped gifts, Derek's mother, Rachel Thomas, said with an authoritative tone. "I've already told you about that attitude of yours and being nice to company."

Derek frowned at the floor at the few snickers elicited from his mother's words.

"Yeah, buddy." Steven Thomas, Derek's father added. "Don't make your mom take away all your presents." He warned with a sly smirk. "Cause you know she will."

"Not this one, I hope." Katherine said through a slightly restrained giggle of her own.

Derek's eyes lit up at the sight of the large square shaped box wrapped in sky-blue wrapping paper. His hands shot out and snatched the box from Katherine and savagely tore the container apart. While every other gift would be a genuine surprise, everyone already knew what was inside the box, including Derek. However, knowing what the gift was did nothing to dampen the boy's excitement. Inside the box were two items. The first was a long, dark blue fingerless glove with blackened knuckles. A small, almost diamond shaped metal platform with a black dial constructed into the center was fashioned on the top of the glove. The second item, which Derek greedily clutched with both hands, was a standard issue Robco Pip-Boy 3000; a powerful rectangular shaped minicomputer with a variety of functions; data collection and storage being chief among them. The metal boarders of the device were also a dark blue and surrounded a black LCD screen. Three red buttons that read stats, items, and data from left to right were positioned beneath the screen. A Geiger counter sat at the top left of the device. Below the radiation meter a dial that spun vertically was built into the device on the immediate left of the screen. One final spinning adjuster sat near the bottom left corner.

Derek pulled the glove over his left hand then slid the Pip-Boy on next and attached a small connecting cord from the bulky device to the port on the glove platform. The Pip-Boy screen lit up with a steady scroll of readouts in bright green text. After about one minute of loading, the display screen blipped and an image of a blonde man with cartoonish features dressed in a Vault 186 jumpsuit appeared on the screen encircled by various status bars that appeared to indicate the current health and condition of Derek's body and limbs. The young Vault Dweller cycled through several of the Pip-Boy's screens, experimenting with the different nobs and buttons. When he pressed the button marked "Data" his eyes lit up at the radio option on the screen. A few clicks from the bottom left nob and the room was suddenly filled with a mature, charismatic voice.

"This is, Vault Boy Five-Thousand, and you've been listening to the pre-war eras greatest hits." The man said with genuine enthusiasm. "We're halfway in to the hour that takes us back to the sounds and vocals that inspired our ancestors and kept the mood for makin' babies alive. Remember, next up we got our very own Karen Shaw ready to lay down her hit singles; Your Love is Like a Cave-inand These Stone Walls comin' up at the top of the hour but right now sit back, put your arm around that special someone, and enjoy the smooth vibes of this romantic classic from The Penguins.We've got so much music here at 186 Vibes even I haven't heard it all so remember to send in those requests after sifting through the historical database and never forget; music is medicine for the soul, ooow!"

Seconds later, soothing slow dance music began flowing from Derek's Pip-Boy speakers.

"Earth Angel, Earth Angel…will you be mine? My darling dear love you all the time."

Katherine smiled while watching Derek fiddle with his new toy. A toy that would one day become an essential part of the boy's life in the Vault. She noticed as if on cue, when the music began filling the room, Derek's eyes locked onto one of his party guests; a young girl with long black hair slightly puffy cheeks with small dimples and bright blue eyes. The girl gazed back at Derek and smiled.

"Go on." Katherine nudged Derek. "This song isn't that long so you better ask her now before you're out of time."

A wide smile spread across Katherine's face as she watched Derek dance with the girl. What was her name again? Jessica. That was it. A giggle almost escaped Katherine as Derek's parents joined in on the festivities and began dancing a few feet from their son. Katherine felt a warm sensation spread through her chest as she enjoyed watching the heartwarming moment. Derek deserved it or at least she thought so. While he wasn't Katherine's biological brother, the two had bonded many years ago when she was eight and he was four. Derek, being one of the rare shut-ins and slightly anti-social residents of the Vault never really connected with the other children. It was when Katherine had verbally defended him from a few bullies that she realized he was more of an old soul than awkward like most believed. The friendship was a natural development and somewhere along the way, Katherine couldn't really remember when, they began referring to each other as brother and sister. Now she was watching her little brother grow up and she didn't want to miss any of it.

"I'm just a fool…a fool in love…with yo–"

A low rumbling vibrated through the room sending tingles through the feet and legs of the partygoers. Katherine held in a gasp and glanced around with confusion covering her face. The song was cut off and replaced by static for several unnerving seconds before continuing.

"What was that?" Katherine asked no one in particular.

Another rumble and this time the radio host's voice replaced the music.

"Standby folks. We seem to be having some techni –" The host's voice was cut short.

The lights inside the living area of the residence gave an electrical whine as they dimmed and flickered just before a loud thunderous sound boomed from what seemed like all directions. Many children in the room began screaming while ducking down and covering their heads. Some merely whimpered and tears began streaming down the faces of others.

A quick glance at Derek's Pip-Boy revealed it was still functioning normally so Katherine knew that whatever had happened had something to do with the Vault.

Derek's parents gave each other a knowing look before turning towards the exit to their residence.

"It's the main sector reactor hub." Steven said while walking towards the exit.

"But how?" Rachel asked, following a step behind her husband. "There haven't even been any irregular spikes for the last two months."

"We won't know till we get there." Steven replied.

"Mom, Dad, what's going on?" Derek asked while running after his parents.

"Stay here, Derek." Steven ordered. "Katherine…" He began to ask but could see she already knew what his request would be.

"I'll look after him until you get back." Katherine said with a nod.

"I don't need to be looked after." Derek protested. "I need to know what's happening!"

The door to the residence opened more slowly than usual as the time between the rumbling -which was becoming more violent every minute- started getting shorter and shorter. Steven turned to the crowd of children and few adults who were all on the brink of frenzied panic.

"Everyone stay here and try to remain calm." Steven said.

"Stay here?" One of the adults, Phillip Turner, shouted while pulling one of the children behind him as he approached the exit. "I've got to make sure the rest of my family is OK!"

"I understand that, Phil, but right now it's too dangerous to travel the halls." Steven said with a hand raised towards the fearful man gesturing for him to get down.

"Why?" Carol Summers, the only other adult at the party asked in frustration.

"Because if this is the main hub of reactors like we think it is then there are going to be power surges." Rachel explained.

"So what?" Phillip challenged.

Steven began growing impatient. He didn't want to waste time explaining things to a panicked room when he needed to be at the reactor trying to solve whatever problem had arisen.

"There are hundreds of maintenance consoles and wiring covered by metal panels in every hallway. A power surge may cause some of them to short out or explode." Steven said with an authoritative tone.

As if on cue, one of the panels just outside the residence exploded from one side of the hallway to the other in a blaze of bright sparks and electricity.

"You need to stay here, stay down, and keep an eye on the kids. Got it?" Steven commanded.

With that both Steven and Rachel left their home without waiting for an answer from the other two adults. Derek started to follow after them but a raised hand from Katherine halted his advance towards the door, which was now stuck halfway open after another round of rumbling saw several sparks burst from the metal barrier.

"Bro, if there was one day you ever planned on actually listening to your parents, today's the day." Katherine said after restraining Derek with both arms.

"But…!" Derek began but was cut short from another violent rumble that threw everyone to the floor.

Ten minutes later, Steven and Rachel Thomas found themselves surrounded by a chaotic scene inside the main power generation station for the upper east bloc of Vault 186. The station was a massive collection of grated metal floors lined with guardrails. Four colossal reactors were spread evenly throughout the station. The power generators were square in shape with round corners that harbored four gigantic coiled spikes that would normally emit a low hum from stable energy coursing through them. Sitting along the center of the back wall was the main supercomputer used to control the input-output levels of the generators. Low wisps from the cooling fans inside the device and a few random beeps were usually all of the noises generated by the computer. As Steven and Rachel rushed over to the control center, the device was blaring with emergency alarms and flashing with red and yellow warning lights.

"What the hell happened?" Steven shouted at one of the panicked technicians gazing out in horror at the machine.

"I don't know!" The technician admitted. Both of his hands were clasped to the sides of his shaking head. "I can't make sense of it. One minute everything was fine and then the next we had an irregular power spike; a fucking massive one and now…" He couldn't continue.

"Now what?" Rachel demanded.

"Now…" The technician began backing away from the computer, the red emergency lights gave his terrified expression a haunting glow. "Oh no…"

Steven stepped over to the technician and glanced at what had struck fear into the man's heart. Upon seeing what his coworker had seen his eyes widened in horror as well.

"Holy…" Steven began but his fear and disbelief didn't allow him to finish his sentence.

"Steve? What is it?" Rachel asked.

Steven only gave his wife a brief glance before turning to the nearest generator and gazing up at the four coils. Bright blue electric currents surged violently through the spiraled metal, some shooting up into the steel pipes lining the ceiling causing steam to shoot out into the air. The rumbling began again with more intensity than before and with little time to think or react, Steven turned his gaze to the frenzied maintenance staff members who were darting back and forth through the station trying to power down the reactors.

"Everyone get out of here!" Steven took Rachel's hand in a tight grip. "Now!"

The rumbling knocked several members of the staff onto the ground. A few who took hold of the guardrails for support were launched into the air and covered in grotesque burns from electrical explosions that erupted throughout the station.

Steven made his way across the grated platform, running faster than he had ever run while pulling his terrified wife behind him. Both of their eyes were locked on the exit, which was about forty feet away. Steven felt hope building in his chest; the growing anticipation of his desired escape from the chaos exploding around him. Two other fleeing technicians, Mark Davidson and Janice Sanford, had made it through the exit and Steven was determined to follow their lead. Whatever was happening was no longer important. The only thing that mattered was the safety of his wife and child and he only needed to make it a few more steps before that goal would be attainable.

Unfortunately, neither Steven nor Rachel were allowed another step before one of the generators erupted into a deadly combination of fire and electricity. The explosion brought the ceiling crashing down onto the screaming maintenance staff who were already being cooked alive from the electrical fires of the blast. Steven's gaze never left the tunnel outside of the station as the fires consumed him and his wife and they were buried beneath the falling rock and metal.

At once, all of the lights, laboratories, and work stations in the upper east bloc of the Vault shut down. Many of the lights had simply exploded from the power surges leading up to the blast and the two small backup generators roughly a quarter mile away from the main station had overloaded and shut down as well. Although the maintenance crew of the backup hub had been spared a similar fate to their counterparts present in the main station, they were no less panicked than their fellow Vault Dwellers from the events of that day.

Almost an hour later the scene outside of the main station was one of bleak confusion and fear. Seven members of the security police force, including Captain Ford, were standing between a crowd of horrified Vault Dwellers and the inaccessible power station that was now blocked by fallen debris that had spilled out into the hallway from the force of the blast. Lights from several Pip-Boys were the only things illuminating the hall.

"Everyone please remain calm." Mathew said with a raised voice.

The security Captain realized the futility of his request but tried his best to follow his own advice. The crowd of civilians was on edge and nothing was going to calm them down. Sometimes chaos just simply had to run its course. Exhaustion would eventually overtake the fear and with exhaustion came a natural calm that voices of reason could penetrate.

"All of the power is gone." A man Mathew recognized as Phillip Turner screamed. "The water purification lab…the life support systems…all of it has shut down! We're going to die!"

"If the life support was off we'd have all suffocated by now." Mathew countered with a calm but stern tone.

"Then why is it so cold, huh?" Phillip shot back.

"He's right. It's freezing!" Another member of the crowd added.

"Everyone please." One of the only two surviving technicians, Mark Davidson pleaded. "Please listen to the captain. We are not going to suffocate. The Vault has three other main power stations and several small backups. Our lights and systems were all routed to the main and backup hubs of this bloc and it's going to take time to reroute things so we have our lights and heat back online. Air is still being circulated from the other blocs and all of the other water stations are still operational so we are all going to be fine."

"What do you know?" Another angered man from the crowd shouted. "It's your incompetence that caused this in the first place! All of you fucking techies!"

"Let's not start flinging baseless accusations." Mathew said while Mark only lowered his head with a defeated sigh.

"There's nothing baseless about it!" The same angered man continued. "It was Steven's fault! He was the head technician responsible for the station and look at what he let happen! The coward wasn't even there when the place blew! I heard the irresponsible prick took time off for some birthday party!"

Angered murmurs began circulating through the crowd until a young voice cut through the chatter like a gunshot.

"Hey!" Derek bellowed through burning tears. "My dad was there you idiot! He was trying to stop whatever was happening!"

"A lot of good he did." The man would not back down.

Mathew was trying his best to locate the individual who was needlessly inciting the crowd into another angered mob. On the one hand, Mathew could understand that the man was scared and angry, looking for anything or anyone to blame for the current situation. But no one needed that at the moment. What they needed was reassurance that those trusted with the safety and continued operation of the Vault were doing everything they could to ensure just that. Unfortunately the limited visibility granted from the Pip-Boy lights were making things very difficult.

"Why don't you back off?" Katherine demanded while placing her hands protectively onto Derek's shoulders. "He's just lost both of his parents for God's sake."

"Well maybe they shouldn't have been assigned to the damn power station when they were too stupid to keep the thing from exploding!" The man growled.

"You motherfucker!" Derek tore himself free from Katherine's grip and charged full force into the man, tackling him to the ground.

Mathew couldn't contain the panic in his heart when he heard his daughter's voice amongst the crowd. He began shoving his way through the already parting group of civilians at the sound of the scuffle taking place. When he finally reached the center of the crowd what he saw infuriated him beyond words.

While the initial surprise of his attack had allowed Derek to bring the much older, taller, and stronger man to the ground, the man had quickly recovered and was now holding the boy down with one hand around his throat.

"I'm gonna give you the beating your father deserves!" The man barked.

"Get off of him!" Katherine shrieked while grabbing the man from behind.

Katherine's plan was to pull the man off and run but she instead received a backhanded punch to her left cheek and stumbled with a yelp of pain. A few members of the crowd had already begun advancing on the situation. Even those who misguidedly agreed with the man, mostly due to their own fear and confusion, were unwilling to let him harm an innocent minor.

None of them made it to the man before Mathew had leapt towards him and pinned him to the ground, repeatedly slamming his fist into the man's face.

"You fucking bastard!" Mathew roared.

It took two of his fellow officers to pull Mathew off of the man and he managed one final kick to the agitator's hip before he was dragged out of reach. But that didn't stop him from screaming.

"If you ever touch my daughter again I'll kill you!" Mathew threatened. "You hear me you piece of shit? I'll fucking kill you!"

"Boss, get a hold of yourself." Dennis Hsu said while struggling to hold back his superior officer.

One full minute passed before Mathew finally stopped struggling. Deep hastened breaths escaped him as he glared down at the groaning form of the man who had struck his daughter and then the realization hit him. His eyes took in the sight of Katherine gazing up at him with shock spread across her face.

Being a part of a small security force assigned to ensure the safety of a large population usually meant that one would have to be violent at some point in order to keep the peace but Mathew had never beaten anyone as badly as he had beaten that man. He hadn't lost complete control. He wasn't going to kill the man but he hadn't been ready to stop when his officers had restrained him. He wanted the man to suffer and that realization combined with the look on his daughter's face sent a chill down his spine.

"Okay…I'm OK. Let me go." Mathew ordered and was relieved when his men complied. "All right…everyone…"

The plan was to continue where he had left off before his violent outburst but another outburst prevented him from doing so.

Derek, who had still been lying on the floor, had completely broken down into tears. He sat up and buried his face in his hands, sobbing uncontrollably. Katherine rushed over to the boy and wrapped him in a comforting embrace, rubbing the back of his head with her hand.

"It's OK." Katherine soothed. "It's going to be OK."

"Everyone, please…just…return to your homes." Mathew pleaded with the crowd. "There's nothing anyone can do here."

"I want my momma." Derek said weakly through his sobs.

"I know…" Katherine had no idea what to say. "I know..."

Katherine sat with Derek, never letting go of him as he cried with his face buried in her chest hidden from the world.

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