Blurred Lines

pt. one

Missions never went as planned. You were trained for that, in the Brotherhood — trained for every possible contingency — but some things, you just couldn't ever prepare for. Like, for example, finding out that your entire life was a lie, and that you were grown in a lab. A shock to the head after his Vertibird crashed violently had helped this realization dawn on Lothar, as older, real memories came flitting back into his concussed mind. Memories of a sterile, scientific place, walls of white and lots of glass. Where he'd come from looked like the future, and where he was now... Well, it looked like nothing short of hell. The Capital Wasteland was among the unfriendliest places of the post-nuclear-apocalypse, that much was certain.

At first, the pilot had tried to ignore what he'd remembered, tried to blame it on a head injury and psyche himself up for the long walk back to the Citadel. His bird was ruined beyond repair, and his copilot was killed in the crash, but with discipline and something to fight for, he knew he could make it back on foot. Yet, something made him hesitate. The possibility that he was a Synth... Well, this was nothing short of an identity crisis. He was in no condition to be a worthy soldier of the Brotherhood, like this.

In the end, he'd decided against returning to the Brotherhood. Maybe it would be for the best, if they thought he was dead, like his copilot. His copilot... Just an initiate, a kid. He would've given him a proper funeral, but the bird had gone up in flames, and once the gas tank had ignited... Well, the explosion was vast, fire rising up into the sky, and even from minimum safe distance, Loth could feel the head of it against his skin. He'd taken off his holotags and hung them from a protruding steel beam that jutted forth from the ground, the remnants of some old ruined building. It wasn't far from the crash; he could see the smoke rising if he looked over his shoulder. Scribes would document his death, if they ever found the tags or the Vertibird wreckage, anyway.

Lothar had walked in a daze from the crash site, absentmindedly unzipping his flight suit half way to tie the sleeves about his waist. The Capital Wasteland's heat was unforgiving, especially in mid afternoon. In an effort to escape from the beating sun, he'd ducked into a building, checking his own supplies and ammunition levels. He gave the entire building a thorough check, for any extra supplies as well as dangers, but it had already been cleared out, by the look of things, and all was calm. The pilot spent a whole evening and night there, dozing lightly on the floor with his head resting on a lumpy military backpack full of munitions. At the crack of dawn, he was jarred instantly from such a light sleep by pale rays of sunshine filtering through broken windows. He packed his things, and left. For the rest of his days, he would wander in this fashion, living on the edges of safety and moving further and further from downtown D.C., never remaining in one place for more than a day and a night, never sleeping deeply.

pt. two

Years passed. He kept count of the days in a small notebook. The tally marks took up pages upon pages, scrawled in different coloured inks and dyes and pencils as each old writing tool's usefulness expired. Every few months, he would sit soberly and count the marks, trying to keep track of time, though days blurred together more than they ever had in the service. Every day felt the same, accomplishing nothing but mere survival, with no other goal in mind. Purposeless. It felt bleak. In these empty hours his mind often wandered to dark places, or ruminated over his broken memories of the Institute, as he tried to wonder what in his life had been real and what hadn't. Had he really had a wife? A child? Had he really lost them that day the Raiders swept through his fragile settlement? Or had it all been some kind of fever dream, some implanted falsehood that had pained him as deeply as if it had been real? How could he ever hope to know? The Brotherhood certainly wouldn't help him, and every year that passed deepened the rift between this hardened survivalist and his old life as a soldier.

Night was falling, a second night in the same place. It went against the rule he'd set for himself in his first weeks of wandering, but, assuming his timekeeping was accurate, today marked the fifth anniversary of the Vertibird crash — the first day of his fifth year AWOL. It wasn't something to celebrate, but it was a significant day. So much time had drifted by... He hesitantly decided to give himself an extra day to rest. This building he'd settled in, it had everything; running water, though somewhat dirty and irradiated. Pre-War food, though stale and also dosed with rads. Even the bathroom mirror was only a little bit broken, with unbroken chunks large enough for the pilot to get a good look at himself: his hair had grown out wild and unruly, and he had quite a beard, despite the fact that he occasionally tended to both. Still, the last time he'd actually shaved his head and facial hair was before he'd left the Citadel on that fateful mission. With his sterilized combat knife, he set to work.

To get a clean shave with old soap and a regular knife took hours and several nicks, but it felt good to be tidied up nonetheless. This man in the mirror wasn't even a man he recognized anymore, so used to seeing the feral survivalist staring back at him, not this youthful, smooth face. As he looked at the hair in the sink, he noticed there wasn't a gray hair to be found, and surveying his face, the sun hadn't wrinkled or worn his skin at all. Well, maybe he was just aging gracefully. Or, maybe, it was all the more evidence in favour of his being a Synth. He didn't know how all that worked, and frankly, he didn't care, didn't want to know, at least not right now.

Drying off with a spare shirt, he draped it over the edge of the sink and headed into the abandoned house's bedroom, sitting in a dusty easy chair. Particulates floated in the air like a heavy cloud, jarred by the first person to sit here in ages, but Loth was too tired and comfortable to care. Out the window directly ahead, he could still make out the Capitol building's spired dome, illuminated by sunset's final flame hues, and a shiver ran up his spine; he never had made it all too far. Maybe he'd never been trying to. Surviving and running were two different things. As his thoughts became disjointed, Lothar drifted into an exhausted but fitful sleep in the easy chair with his 10 mm pistol clutched in his right hand, dreaming of flying high over the Capital Wasteland in a Vertibird.

Surviving and running were two different things.