Hellcat left her new ‘headquarters’ as Gage put it in a daze. First she went from robot to mostly human, and in less than a day she had already become the Overboss of three raider gangs. Now she was supposed to meet with them. She shakes her head. She’d meet with them, then she’d put a bullet in their heads. Her plan remained unchanged. The closest to Fizztop Mountain were the Disciples. Walking in she had to keep her newfound gag reflexes from causing her to dry heave. The smell of rotting corpses and the sheer amount of gore in the place was frightening. The meeting with their leader, Nisha, was terse to put it lightly, but ended more or less amicably. Down the road were the Operators. Cleaner by far, they were already breaking down what they knew of her. They were smarter than the others in that way. When they did finally speak to each other, Hellcat was honest about her intentions for Nuka-World. She wanted to make caps. That garnered her some respect which only left Mason and his Pack.
Heading into the ‘Zoo’ was odd. Some sort of amphitheater turned into a pit fighting arena. Doing as Gage suggested and showing muscle ended a conversation that just kept looping around the bits about Hellcat not seeming Overboss material. She made her rounds. She headed back to the Grille and spoke with Gage again. Now she had to take over the other five parks that surrounded Nuka-Town USA. She was advised to do it fairly, and that gave her an idea. She wasn’t an invincible warbot anymore. The Gauntlet taught her that much.
First she went to Kiddie Kingdom and poked her head into the gate, sneaking quietly. Feral ghouls filled the place and the mist machines that were meant to cool the crowds in summer were spraying a sickly green fog that made Hellcat’s geiger counter tick. “Oh this is fun,” she mutters. She looked around for some sort of path upwards, but short of scaling the walls she was out of luck, and if she made too much noise she would be a sitting duck. She backs away from the Kingdom and heads northeast to see if there was anything helpful at Bradburton. She hopes that there might be a hazmat suit or even a cache of Rad-Away, but doesn’t cling to the thought.
The first few buildings don’t turn up much; just overgrown bugs and ferals. However in a crumbling abode at the southeast edge of Nuka-World’s town is a dead ghoul. She looks it over, curious. “Laying on a cot…” She lowers down to one knee and places a finger to the ghoul’s head. “Entry wound from a small caliber handgun.” She taps the 10mm handgun the ghoul still clutched. “Too organized and clean for a raider attack disguised as suicide. Most likely self inflicted…” She shakes her head. “Did you fear what you became?” Off in the distance she can hear the shuffling footsteps of feral ghouls and their snarls as they attacked something, ending a potential internal dialog about her own transformation before it began and turned it to a different existential thought. “Or what you might become?” Looking to the table, her eyes fall on a holotape. “Possible last will and testament?” She takes the recording and plugs it into the Pip-Boy on her left arm. She wasn’t sure what she expected, but it wasn’t this.
“I think this is it. I can't go any further. I can feel it taking me.” The ghoul growls some before she forces herself to continue. “No, gotta keep it together a little longer. Oswald, I'm sorry. I've looked everywhere I could think, but there's no cure. What towns and outposts I could find said that we ghouls just go feral eventually, and there's nothing to be done. Maybe it was the misters. Held out…” A pained moan is heard. “...as long as I can. I know this isn't what you'd want but... I can't stand the thought of mindlessly attacking everyone around me, so I've decided to end it on my own terms. I don't know why it hasn't affected you the same, but if you've still held it together... I want you to move on. Leave Nuka-World. You can still make a life out there. It's not all as bad as we thought. I love you Oz.”
The tape cuts off with a soft beep prompting Hellcat to sigh and shake her head. “Sleep well.” Sticking the holotape into a hip pouch, the synth woman rises back to her feet and leaves. “This was sobering, but a waste of time.” She thought of what she could do about the Kiddie Kingdom, then it dawns on her. All those ferals were from her own time. They were prewar, and the misters spewed radiation. The dead ghoul mentioned misters in the recording, and Kiddie Kingdom was the only place with them active. “Oswald must be in the Kiddie Kingdom. I should get him out of there before the raiders get tired of waiting for their boss to do all the heavy lifting and move in themselves.” Heading straight for the Kingdom she uses the only entrance the place has, getting chastised by a ghoulish voice on the loudspeakers, taunting and mocking her. Not only that, but he gave her three places to check for the voice’s owner.
She looks at her right hand. She could feel the sword she came equipped with, collapsed small and neat and retracted into her forearm nestled just between the bones and sinews. She needed that sword. There were too many ferals in the park to use just her one handgun with what little ammo she had for it. The misters would only heal the ghouls while she attacked them; she needed something to take them down permanently. She took a nervous breath that came out as a shaky sigh. Putting a hand to her chest she could feel the heart inside pounding. Was she afraid? She had never felt this before, not in over four thousand combat engagements. Was it because she was alive now? She couldn’t think of any other cause for it, or any other reason; she was vulnerable now. One well placed bullet and she was done, and this time there wouldn’t be a way for her to come back. She had never had to think about cessation of her functions before. “In the end, Death comes for all…”
She takes another breath and forces her heart to slow, crushing the fear like she had the ants and radroaches until she becomes calm again. Thinking about all the ways she could die would only weaken her. She shakes her head and decides that she would just have to put her skill in stealth to good use, hoping the ghouls would ignore the oddly shiny material creeping from shadow to shadow. Snooping around, she found that some of the rides still functioned and were used as ‘pitfalls’ of sorts to deal damage to anybody who got too close. Approaching one ride to see if there was a path beyond, Oswald pipes up over the loudspeakers. “Don’t you think you’re a little big for that ride?” She was about to retort that it wasn’t her fault she can’t fit the safety bar over her chest, but she’s cut off by Oswald’s continuation. “Around the middle mostly.”
She frowns and tells herself ‘tell him about his girlfriend and let him leave’ a few times to help remind herself that killing the sneering ghoul was a bad thing. Thick skin doesn’t last forever, and she had been insulted, ridiculed, and belittled from the moment she set foot in the park. Picking her way through the various rides and somehow passing a paint-covered ghoul in a narrow tunnel without it noticing her she arrives at a larger building designed like a castle. Going inside was easy enough; the front doors were unlocked. Upon entering she is greeted by Oswald’s voice. “You’re finally here! The show is about to start!”
No use sneaking anymore. She rises to walk into the theater area where a recording of a woman’s voice comes over the speakers. “And now… The show you’ve all been waiting for… Oswald the Outrageous!”
A plume of smoke explodes on the balcony overhead and there stands a Glowing One in a tuxedo with a tophat. That was certainly new and prompted the former warbot to blink in surprise. “I’ll admit, I didn’t think you’d make it this far.” He sizes her up for a moment, looking over her attire and stance. “I can tell you’re different than the usual invaders, so I’ll not bother with the usual tricks and illusions I use to scare off the superstitious.” He explodes in another puff of smoke, only for another one to reappear down on the floor in front of the stage and to Hellcat’s right. When this one dissipates Oswald is standing there now. “When the bombs fell, everything changed. We changed.” He walks along the path between the audience seats and the stage to stand before her. “And somehow I received a gift. Actual magic. The stuff of legends. Would you like to see some?” He thrusts his hand over his head and a massive burst of radiation emanates from his body reviving several of the painted ghouls that littered the area around them. “Up! No matter what you do, I can heal my friends, and we will protect what is ours.”
The ghouls all set upon her as quick as their warped bodies can and a multitude of shots ring out from her pistol in the span of a few short seconds, leaving all the painted ghouls dead and Oswald lying on the floor in what would have been critical condition for a normal human. Not that any of those here would qualify for that. Before Hellcat can open her mouth to tell him about the holotape she discovered, Oswald disappears in another cloud of smoke. “Sorry, but I’m not going down that easily. The show must go on!” his voice thunders from the loudspeakers. She punches at a seat in frustration, denting its frame.
Sighing once more she heads to the ‘roller coaster’ of the area which amounted to pairs of cars going along a track that circled this section of the park. The only tunnels she figured Oswald might try to hide in would be the maintenance tunnels underground. The tracks led her to one such door eventually, unlocked as expected, and she slips inside as quietly as she can. As she descends the steps to the service tunnels proper, she can hear Oswald ahead. “What are you doing out of costume? You know Nuka fires people for breaking character.” The other ghoul growls in agitation. “Yes, of course I’m kidding. But seriously, the clown makeup helps scare the invaders off and there’s a new one in the park.” Hellcat approaches a window and looks down, listening in on Oswald’s rather one-sided conversation with the painted ghoul. It makes an unintelligible growl and hunkers down. “No. No I don’t think that is going to work this time. There’s something different about this one.” Hellcat couldn’t help but think how right he didn’t know he was about that.
The painted ghoul makes some particularly angry sounding growls as Oswald paints its face up. In an almost comical turn of events, Oswald likewise growls. “See, I can do that, too. Now stop squirming.” The painted ghoul lets out a far more subdued growl. Perhaps Glowing Ones were actually able to understand feral ghouls? Or Oswald might just be crazed from loneliness. “Sorry. I know you can’t help it. We just have to hold out till she gets back with a cure. Then we’ll drive out the raiders and and get the farm back in order. We’ll fix this. I promise.” He adds a few finishing touches to the ghoul’s face and steps back looking at the feral appreciatively. “There. Back in character. I need to prepare some more surprises for our visitor so I’ll leave you to find your own way out.” As per his usual tendencies, Oswald through something at the floor to make his plume of smoke and disappeared with it.
Hellcat frowns again. At this rate it might stick that way. She turns from the window to investigate the rest of the tunnels and finds the source of the glowing mists from the misters. Following a winding path around the radioactive swimming pool she comes to a door that leads into the room Oswald had just left. Drawing her handcannon she slowly opens the door and peers in. The second her sights land on the painted ghoul her finger twitches, sending a heavy slug through its rotten brain and ensuring that not even Oswald could bring it back. Stepping inside she looks around the room. Some shelves with junk, a bed, and a dresser were on two of the walls, and a series of consoles occupied the wall under the window she had spied through earlier. She pockets the key on top, figuring she’d find its use sooner or later, and accesses the main terminal. Some user logs about the transformation of the park workers and their problems along the way and even figuring out to use the misters to keep the radiation levels high enough to kill humans to protect themselves. “Clever girl,” she comments, complementing the ghoul she had just killed presumably. She wondered about this Rachel that was mentioned. Was she the ghoul that Hellcat had stumbled upon earlier? It seemed possible. Anything was at this point.
She makes her way back around and leaves the tunnels, only to hear Oswald’s voice the second the opened the door to step outside. “Oh, no! You shut down my defenses!” he says dramatically. “Oh, wait. I’ll just turn these back on,” he says with far more sarcasm dripping from his voice as the misters around the park all start filling the area with the glowing green fog from before. Easy come easy go. This just left the Fun House, and Atom only knows what Oswald had in store for her there. It’s fairly easy to get there, especially now that it’s daytime and she can see quite clearly. As with the castle the moment she steps inside she is greeted by Oswald’s voice. “Welcome, boys and girls, to… the Fun House!” She could practically feel his self-satisfied smile from here. “And aren’t we having fun.” He finishes with a low and sinister chuckle. This was going to take a while.
“Don’t worry, the mirrors are too dirty to reflect anything,” came Oswald’s voice as Hellcat opened the door to the mirror maze. “In your case, I’d probably say that’s a benefit.” She rolls her eyes at the chatty magician’s taunts and after a few lucky guesses she’s through the maze in only a few short seconds. The exit led her to a conveyer belt that ran the length of a hallway. At first walking was enough to make progress but every time she made it to the halfway point Oswald would ramp up the speed and send her shooting back again. Sprinting fixed that problem and once she reached the end Oswald gave up and moved to the next control booth. A pair of spinning Nuka-Cola bottles were in the next room, small platforms connected to each to provide a jumping game for the synthetic woman. No tricks from the trickster as she made it across and she pauses at a terminal. She selects the option ‘low nausea mode’ because why not and starts walking through spinning green tubes, eventually leaving the cylindrical maze for a room that looks like something out of an Escher painting. “Feeling dizzy yet? Can’t tell which way is up?” Oswald taunts.
Hellcat lets out an annoyed grunt in response. That was all he would get from her at this point. After rifling through the pockets of a dead raider, she leaves the ‘Escher room’ for a large spinning and circular room covered in doors. She picks a darker red one that calls to her for some reason and it has a hallway in it with a door at the end. “Well, you’re a bit hardier than the others it seems. But not much smarter, I’m afraid.” Stepping through the door Oswald speaks again. “Well, it seems your asinine assault won’t be dissuaded. Then I guess it’s time for our final act. Join me on the roof of King Cola’s Castle and we’ll see and end to this production.” She rubs her chin when she comes to a fork, and instead of going to a chained up door to her right, she follows a hallway left until it opens to the control room for the Fun House. “Sorry, stranger, but I’ve already flown the coop,” comes Oswald’s voice over the loudspeakers. “Don’t worry, I’ve still got plenty of surprises in store for you.” This prompts another eye roll and she looks over the room anyways, but finds nothing she cares to take.
The trip back to the Castle was quiet enough, the painted ghouls still just as easy to avoid as before. Taking an elevator backstage brought her to the roof where Oswald waited for her. Stepping off she saw that this was definitely an arena of Oswald’s choosing; there are barrels of toxic waste everywhere. As she steps forward a cloud of smoke explodes on a raised area of the rooftop and there stands Oswald, sword drawn and in hand. “You invaders are all the same. You come into someone’s home, steal their belongings and kill all those they care about. I’m not going to let you kill any more of my friends. This is our home, not yours.
Hellcat shifts her weight to one foot, her broad hips rocking to the side, and rests a hand on one. “You do realize your ‘friends’ are feral ghouls, right?” She had a hard time imagining anybody befriending a feral ghoul, even after she had seen it.
Oswald looks enraged by that. “They’re not feral, they’re sick. They can’t help what they’ve become. It’s an illness and it certainly doesn’t justify you trying to wipe us out.”
“What do you mean it’s an illness?”
The question draws a frustrated growl from the Glowing One. “It’s an illness that affects the brain. We’re going to find a cure, and we’re going to drive you out of our home.” His eyes lose their fire and take on a sad look. “We’ve defended this place for over 200 years. Do you think you’re the first outsider I’ve met who chose to brand ‘feral’ ghouls as monsters? How many of them have you needlessly slaughtered while ignorantly thinking you’re doing the world a favor?”
Hellcat sighs. She wants to reason with him, but he is making it difficult. “Ghouls like your friends, it’s too late for them. The radiation changed them forever.”
“So you’re admitting my friends are sick and yet you try to kill them anyway?” His grip tightens on the hilt of his sword. “I’d say that makes you the only monster around here.”
She pinches the bridge of her nose feeling a headache coming on. She didn’t remember humans being this dense. “It’s not a sickness. The radiation consumed their minds… they became feral.”
The Glowing One’s stance changes. He’s heard this too many times, and he’s starting to doubt his own words, but he clings to them like a security blanket. “You’re wrong! Rachel is going to find a way to cure them, we’re going to fix this!” he shouts desperately. “My beloved left this place years ago to find a cure to this disease. In return, I swore that I’d keep our people safe by defending our home. When Rachel walks back through those gates with the cure in hand, then you’ll see, everyone will see, that I was right!”
Hellcat reaches into one of the pouches at her hip and pulls out the musty holotape. “Rachel’s dead.” She holds out the device to Oswald. “Here. She left this for you.”
Oswald looks crushed and devastated. “She’s dead? No… no… my poor Rachel. How could I allow her to leave my side on such a difficult journey alone? This is all my fault. Well, that does it then. It’s up to me to leave this place and find the cure myself. I’ll gather what remains of my friends and we’ll leave this place in your care. Don’t worry about the radiation. It will no longer be a burden to you and your kind.” He takes off his tophat and places it on the hilt of his sword, offering both to Hellcat. “Here. You should have this. Consider it an apology for misjudging you. Farewell.” Once she accepts them, Oswald throws a smoke pellet at the ground and disappears again.
She shakes her head. “Radiation does strange things to humans. What will happen to me?” she ponders out loud. Opening a hatch to lead outside to the flagpole, she raises a banner with the emblem of the Disciples on it to bequeath it to them. “Hope they’re happy with this place. Fucking batshit lunatics,” she mutters, dipping back into her old naval cursing for a moment. One down, four to go.