Interlude #2: Purgatory
Appalachia, Date Unknown, Conditions Unknown
There I was. Another victory almost within my grasp…and death visited me yet again. A betrayal…a trap and I found myself falling into the turbulent green void of Fissure Prime. Pain erupted as my skin was quickly vaporized. The words, “Fuck Chad…” barely escaped what was left of my lips before…nothingness. Oblivion.
And yet…a tune. A melodic, plinky, cheerful tune. Slowly, the world swam back into focus. Rough hewn wooden planks stretched away down an aisle of retail shelving. The hardness of the wood, with the flaking upwards of oversized splinters from decades of dry conditions irritating the side of my face. With the echo of pain still coursing through my body, I slowly sat up and looked about me.
Oversized shelving stretched away into the distance, garishly over upholstered chairs and couches, cartoonish stuffed animals, brightly colored lamps and clocks. Before each one a placard of a gleeful insane Vault Boy with a wink and nod frozen in time pointed at impossibly inflated prices.
I glanced at my PipBoy, but it was dark. Flipping a few switches and dials impotently, it was clearly dead and nonfunctional. Immediately alarm bells rang in my mind and chill crept up my spine. Oh so long ago now, I remembered the PipBoy orientation course back in Vault 76 and the words of our teacher Mr. Simmons, “…with a discrete self-renewing microfusion cell power source, these devices will outlive you. But the genius of Robert House didn’t end there, they are designed to draw power through a variety of different means should that cell become damaged: solar, kinetic, electrochemical from your own body. When you step out that Vault door, this is the one life saving device that will never, ever fail you.”
…and yet it had.
Crouched low, unsure of my environment, I found myself without weapons or armor, sticking to the shadows of the dimly lit store as I made my way toward the front. A space opened up at the end of the aisle, with Vault-Tec retail endcaps peddling all kinds of absurdity. There…a pink X-01 Power Armor, and over there…a 4th of July nightmare of Adirondack chairs and a red, white and blue overalls and shirt combo that is more Alabama than Appalachia.
Before me a wide counter reach from one end of the building to the other with narrow aisles on either end with just one exit door with a frosted pane in the center. A Vendor Bot eyelessly studied me, its whirring preceptors and trackers clicking away beneath its domed head. Above its head a glowing neon and metal sign read, “Atomic Shop.”
“Great deals today. Shop our wares, forget your cares…these camp and cosmetic upgrades will transform your Appalachia experience.”
Warily, I approached the counter festooned with Vault Boy statues and Mothman cult paraphernalia.
“What is this place?” I asked.
“Welcome to the Atomic Shop,” it replied, lacking all emotion.
“How did I get here?”
It paused then…nixie tubes flickering with a sinister light beneath its bulbous glass and metal head. “You all end up here.” It said with a finality that chilled me.
I moved past it to the exit door, seizing the door handle and yanking. It would not budge. It might as well have been a prop.
“Great deals today,” it repeated.
“I want to leave this place. How do I get back? I was at Fissure Prime…and I…died. How did I get here? What are you?” I was dimly aware of someone screaming and realized, as I caught my reflection in some of gaudy mirror that it was me. That cheery elevator music plinked on, throbbing in my brain.
“Great. Deals. Today.” It tonelessly replied back.
I saw a blue and yellow Vault-Tec pub chair…marked that it was “on sale” for ONLY 1200 Atoms. Atoms?
“What are ATOMS?” I asked.
Its robotic arms twitched for the first time and it pointed to a chugging machine on a far wall I hadn’t noticed before. Above it a flickering neon light read, “Caps + A Gift = ATOMS”. I walked over to the machine noticing a coin shaped slot to deposit caps, as well as a large, rubber lined hole in the side…just big enough to fit an arm.
It had become clear to me that the only way out of this place was to buy something. Searching my pockets, I found my pockets…kept going…up to my elbow I probed an impossible void, with the clicking of ALL of my caps…ALL of my worldly wealth at my fingertips. Slowly and for what seemed like ages, I deposited all of them into the machine, with it hungrily grinding and clanking as it swallowed them. When I saw done the coin slot clicked closed and the hold in the side lit up with a lurid light. A robotic voice said, “deposit arm please.”
Puzzled, I rolled up my sleeve and inserted my arm into the wet rubbery inside. When I was at my elbow, it suddenly pressured around my arm…sealing me inside. I panicked, kicking and punching at the machine and felt a searing pain as it begun draining me of life. As I collapsed, feverish and lightheaded to the floor, it suddenly released me.
A simple business card popped out of a slot with an atomic symbol on it and the number 2400 below it. Picking myself up, I stumbled over to the counter. I gesticulated wildly, my vision fading away as the void began to retake me. I pointed…and the darkness welcomed me.
Appalachia, Day 157: 82F and sunny
I awoke on the floor of my shack. It had been the worst nightmare I have ever had in my life. As I sat up however, 3 things made the world and my sanity fall away. There were marks on my arm, indicating a tapping of my life’s blood. My sack of caps, always in the corner…was gone.
The final piece of evidence however was against the wall, with the morning light dancing across it. A pink princess bed with cotton sheets and a gaudy headboard with cotton candy towers for bed posts.
It terrifies me.