The Great War happened over two hundred years ago, and the people who remember the days before the bombs fell are fewer in number each year. Ghouls, brains in jars, alien abductees, and a handful of pre-war tycoons who had life support systems ready to go when the worst hit. Among the people who were alive in the ‘Back When’ times is a man who some call a ghoul, others say he’s one of the very first mutants. To those of us who’ve known him a while, he’s just Harold.
Harold was a child when the war began back in 2077. He wasn’t exactly a historian at that age, doesn’t remember the global war over the dwindling supply of oil and uranium, the desperate fight in Anchorage Alaska where America and China fought like alley cats over the last drops of fuel in the world.
He survived the war inside one of vaults, and was twice the lucky duck for getting into one of the good ones. The Vaults were part of an experimentation scheme. While some were really supposed to protect the dwellers within, many more were designed to go horribly awry so that the government could study how humanity adapted to outlandish situations, like a thousand kids with no grown-ups, or an army of defective clones running amok. One Vault even had an entire society based around ritual human sacrifice.
Harold emerged from his vault in 2090 into a wasteland where the first generation of survivors were forging their new civilization. Small communities had sprung up, and Harold and some of the other Vault Dwellers eked out a living as merchants and prospectors. But he was unlike the others. He prospered and became a respectable merchant with his own caravan. His life changed when around 2102 he and Richard Grey mounted an expedition to find the source of the mutants harassing their caravans.
They tracked them to the old military base in Mariposa, California. A secret place from before the war, surrounded by some of the most horribly mutated critters the wasteland held at the time. Most of Harold’s companions were killed before they got inside the place, but Harold and his friend Richard survived… in a sense.
Comparing Harold’s stories with records the Brotherhood recovered from that base, it’s not hard to guess at what must have happened to Harold and Richard. They’d been exposed to an extreme dose of the Forced Evolutionary Virus, and each of them had developed a unique set of mutations.
Richard became an abomination unlike anything seen in the wasteland since. Harold on the other hand turned into something that looked like a ghoul, although he was an entirely unique being. Folk in the Hub didn’t know about super mutants back then, so they treated him like any other ghoul – which wasn’t well. He lost his business, customers, friends. He took to loitering in the out-of-the-way parts of the Hub and he was happy to tell his story to anyone who would talk to him.
Coming from the Vaults as he did, Harold could recognize a fellow Vault dweller when he saw one. He swears up and down that back in 2162 he met the Vault Dweller. The savior of the wasteland. Harold didn’t know he was in the presence of greatness. To him the Vault Dweller looked like any other lost soul wandering around Old Town. It took a long time for word to spread about the Vault Dweller’s deeds, and for folk to piece together all the tales about that person from Vault 13.
Vault 13 was designed to stay shut for two hundred years, but its water purifier broke down a hundred and twenty years early, and it’s Overseer sent out an exceptional young person to look for a replacement. The Overseer knew little of the wasteland, but Vault-Tec records told them that there were other vaults nearby, and the young Vault Dweller set off in search of nearby Vault 15.
Vault 15 had long since been plundered, but its inhabitants founded a nearby village called Shady Sands around 2121 and those folk pointed the Vault Dweller to some of the larger towns in California. Places like Junktown and The Hub had all sorts of pre-war salvage, but no water chips. The Vault Dweller did meet Harold in the Hub – even though neither of them realized it was a moment of destiny.
The Vault Dweller eventually found a replacement chip in the ghoul city of Necropolis. It was built on top of Vault 12, and they had a water chip that ended up saving Vault 13. It seemed that the Vault Dweller had saved the day. But saving the day is never that easy in the wasteland…
Even as the Vault Dweller set about the humble quest for water, a secret and malevolent force was at work in the wasteland. Necropolis wasn’t just full of ghouls, it was invaded by the first generation of super mutants, and the Vault Dweller was among the first people in the wasteland to encounter them and live to talk of it.
The Brotherhood of Steel found the corpse of one of the mutants, but didn’t know what to make of the thing. They couldn’t believe that some wasteland wanderer might be able to help them, but all the same they sent the Vault Dweller out on a fool’s errand to one of the most desolate spots in the wasteland. It turned out that he was able to succeed where others had failed and unraveled the source of the Super Mutant army, and the location of its leader.
In doing so, the Vault Dweller finally found out what happened to Harold’s old friend Richard…
After the Super Mutants were scattered by the Vault Dweller, he wandered North, gathering outcasts from Vault society and other followers. They formed a tribe far up North in Arroyo. Not as sophisticated as life in the Vaults, but at least they were free of Overseers, Vault-Tec and all the problems of pre-war society… for a time.
The Vault Dweller had passed on, but a few of the people who knew him were still alive, in their old age. Harold was among them; his unique mutation has given him long life among other interesting traits. By the 2240’s he had a tree branch growing out the side of his head. Made him stand out among the other ghouls at least.
He met the Chosen One when he was living in a ghoul city called Gecko. The Chosen One was said to be the direct descendant of the Vault Dweller, and like his predecessor, he was sent on a quest to acquire some Old World gizmo made by Vault-Tec. This time, instead of a Water Chip, it was something called a Garden of Eden Creation Kit. A fancy fusion-powered device that could transform a stretch of the wasteland into a fertile patch of paradise.
The elders of Arroyo sent their Chosen One out to track down the location of their homeland, Vault 13. The Overseers of Vault 13 had always been a might paranoid about the outside world, so they kept their location a secret right until their bitter end. The Chosen One had to trek all over Northern California, looking for anyplace, or any one associated with the old Vaults.
Harold and the other ghouls in Gecko had been trying to live in peace with the folk of Vault City, a community that had sprung up around Vault number 8. Vault 8 had already used their GECK, but the Chosen One still lent a hand in resolving their dispute with the ghouls. That was Harold’s second brush with greatness.
Harold wasn’t the only one who knew both the Vault Dweller and the Chosen One. Tandi, the president of the NCR at the time had met the Vault Dweller in her youth. She saw some potential in the Chosen One and talked them into doing some political dirty work to unite the territories around Vaults 13 and 15. Even back then the NCR was constantly scheming to rope in new territory, just like they are now in the Mojave.
The Chosen One ended up stumbling across a plot to wipe out humans worldwide, perpetrated by some of the descendants of the very weasels who had subverted Project Safehouse and turned the Vaults into twisted experiments back before the war. Somehow this Chosen One – a mere “tribal savage” – outwitted the Enclave, one of the most advanced factions in the wasteland. Some old timers in the Mojave still remember seeing the Vertibirds flying East never to return.
The Enclave wasn’t the only Organization that decided to see what was going on in the East. The Brotherhood of Steel had sent out an expedition to Chicago, but lost touch with them. Another team, of course marched all the way across the country to Washington DC to scour the eastern seaboard for technology.
By this time that little branch in Harold’s head had grown into a full-sized tree, with Harold trapped inside, and he was rooted to the spot. On the bright side, he had a group of apostles who thought he was a god, magically spreading greenery to the dying land. They took care of Harold for the most part, even though he grew a little crankier every day.
His “Treeminders” would only let people talk to Harold if you drank their magic potion first. Was really some kind of chem made from tree sap. Can’t rightly recall what happened to Harold. We can only hope that people who visit him in his Oasis take the time to talk with him and remember his contributions to the wasteland.
Once things started to settle down in the East a new world had sprung up in the West. The tribal villages in Arizona had been razed, or conquered by what looked to be something out of the history books. The Roman Legion had returned and set about civilizing the savages, all because some would-be Emperor had found the wrong book.
Seems that Harold got out of New California at the right time. Hopefully he’s still alive. I long to hear more of his stories for myself, and walk the Wasteland through his eyes.
That’s all we really have in the end, you know? Whether its talk of the Old World, or what’s happening on the other side of this dustbowl. Stories allow us to travel to places we’ve never actually been. Live lives some of us can only dream of.