It was strange, really. The sensation of actual, real, natural light hitting one’s own retinae for the first time; it was strange. Yet, even for all the unfamiliarity of the brightness, she couldn’t close her eyelids. She couldn’t shut herself away from this new, wondrous feeling.
The adjustment process was slow. Two decades in artificial light, she considered. It was a wonder she could see shapes at all. Gradually…so gradually…the forms and features making up her sight line became solid. Somewhat recognizable, even; at least in decayed versions from images in the books she pored over during her tenuous years of education.
Glancing towards the all-too-familiar green glow of the screen belonging to the device fastened securely to her wrist, she rotated the knobs, as if instinctual. For the first time, the map displayed on the screen actually meant something. She knew the vault’s layout; it was difficult not to know considering her tenure as a resident. Even the places she shouldn’t have known about were plotted in her memories from so many rounds of hide and seek in those years before childhood gave way to adolescence – and the death of such silliness.
All of this, however, was new. The landscape before her; the vegetation, was it? The massive constructed things off in the distance. And the concept of direction.
Head down to the reactor room. Meet me in the atrium. Hurry; get to the classroom before Mr. Brotch marks you late again! None of these rooms would have any importance again. No, now only direction would help find her way through the vast wasteland that stretched out as far as she could see. And that distance grew as her eyes continued to adjust to the newfound illumination.
She suddenly realized that she’d been standing on a cliff; completely in awe of the alien countryside. The books she’d read did no justice to the sheer immensity she could see. The vault was finite; it had walls to confine its residents to safety, yet for all she couldn’t see, it was as if she could walk on forever. And that reminded her exactly why she found herself in the position she stood in at that moment.
She had no idea where he could have headed. Even if she knew of a name, she certainly knew nothing of how to find it. To the south, there appeared great stone structures – remnants of a highway, if she recalled her studies of the past well enough. Yet the path was incomplete, as portions of the structure had collapsed to the ground below. To the east, though seemed to be the remains of some sort of settlement or at least it once was. What was it called again? A…town? She shook her head – it didn’t matter what it was called. It had to be the location referred to on the Overseer’s terminal. It had to be Springvale. And it looked remarkably well considering its remains stood two hundred years after the Great War. Though one thing it did not appear to be was inhabited.
Her eyes traveled further south and fell upon a strange structure; an assembled jumble of various metal pieces jutting out into the sky. She tried desperately to recall the images found on the Overseer’s computer of the town known as Megaton. It could be that place, and that meant it could be a place to ask for her father’s whereabouts. With any luck, he could still be there.
Peering over the cliff, she decided against scrambling down the sharp-edged rocks to the remains of the road below. The sign indicated it was a scenic overlook, but certainly not a safe passage. No matter; a short path descended in the direction she wished to head mere steps away. She followed the path and then the road towards Springvale, awestruck at the sights that met her eyes.
History class certainly did not prepare her for what she saw. Some of the books taught her the names of such things as houses, mailboxes, cars and trees. Still others taught her of playgrounds and slides and swings and see-saws. She walked close to the buildings, her fingers sliding along the textures that the homes were comprised of. The smooth wooden panels placed horizontally once protected the buildings from the elements; though now, did nothing. Some of the houses sat on properties that were lined with white, wooden pieces…fence was the word that came to mind quickest. She wondered how such tiny barricades of wood could have kept anything out. And how odd it would have been to have had a house; a place for her family, all on its own. Not connected to the homes of others…not joined by the dimly lit corridors of the vault. With windows and doors that actually opened to the outside world. Some of the houses had pretty patterns peeking out of the broken walls; they decorated the interior with flowers and stripes and polka dots. She tried to imagine a time where the functional metal walls and lockers could have been replaced by such things.
And then, she saw it. A large, hand-painted sign with an arrow indicating the way to Megaton.
The desire to explore had quickly been replaced by a feeling of the unknown. What would she find in Megaton? Would her father be there? Would it become her new home? Could she survive in this wasteland she suddenly found herself a part of?
She refused to put the future off any longer – her feet set her on a path to the settlement that she hoped held answers to so many of her questions. She marked the point where two main roads met on her map, dubbing them Springvale – whether it was or wasn’t. As she took one final look back towards the direction of the vault’s entrance, she sighed loudly and turned south.
“I’m coming, dad.”
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