Now I wish to introduce the following idea. Between the vaults numbered nine and fourteen there occur dwellers who, to certain bewitched wastelanders, twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human, but mutated (that is, teratogenic); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as “mutants.”
It will be marked that I substitute time terms for spatial ones. In fact, I would have the reader see “nine” and “fourteen” as the boundaries—the glassy dunes and blasted prairies—of an enchanted oasis haunted by those mutants of mine and surrounded by a vast, arid plain. Between those vault limits, are all girl-children mutants? Of course not. Otherwise, we who are in the know, we lone raiders, we mutolepts, would have long gone radsick. Neither are twisted looks any criterion; and vulgarity, or at least what a given clan terms so, does not necessarily impair certain mysterious characteristics, the feral savagery, the horrible, overwhelming, femur-shattering, brute strength that separates the mutant from such coevals of hers as are incomparably more dependent on the spatial world of synchronous phenomena than on that intangible mirage of shimmering sand where Lolita plays with her likes. Within the same vaults the number of true mutants is trickingly inferior to that of provisionally disfigured, or just weird, or “peculiar,” or even “touched” and “red-headed,” ordinary, plumpish, bipedal, pink-skinned, essentially human little girls, with Geiger counters and jumpsuits, who may or may not turn into dwellers of great beauty (look at the ugly dumplings in blue rompers and yellow stripes that are metamorphosed into stunning stars of New Reno). A normal wastelander given a group photograph of vault girls or Rad Scouts and asked to point out the strangest one will not necessarily choose the mutant among them. You have to be an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite melancholy, with a bubble of hot Jet in your loins and a super-voluptuous radiation permanently aglow in your subtle spine (oh, how you have to barter and sneak!), in order to discern at once, by ineffable signs—the slightly reptilian outline of a cheekbone, the iridescence of a scaly limb, and other indices which despair and shame and weals of radsickness forbid me to tabulate—the little deadly demon among the wholesome children; she stands unrecognized by them and unconscious herself of her fantastic power.
a screaming comes across the sky. it is war, but war never changes.
it is too late. the Escalation continues apace. There are no piplights inside the cars. No vaultech anywhere. Above him lift girders old as Tandi, and glass somewhere far above that would let the light of day through. But it’s night. He’s afraid of the way the bombs will fall—soon—it will be a spectacle: the fall of the Lucky 38. But coming down in total blackout, without one dose of cateye, only great invisible crashing.
Inside the vertibird, which is built on several levels, he sits in velveteen darkness, with nothing to smoke, feeling metal nearer and farther rub and connect, plasma escaping in puffs, a vibration in the vertibird’s frame, a poising, an uneasiness, all the others pressed in around, mutant ones, second brahmin, all with <4 luck and time: drunks, old Arizona Rangers still in shock from ordnance 20 years obsolete, Omegas in city clothes, derelicts, exhausted women with more children than it seems could belong to anyone, stacked about among the rest of the things to be carried out to salvation. Only the nearer faces are visible at all, and at that only as half-silvered images in a pipboy viewscreen, green-stained VIP faces remembered behind bulletproof windows speeding through the city…