I'm very close to 'home' now, with the only remaining event of note being an encounter with a roaming trader whose Brahmin is stuck in some trees. She doesn't realise it's stuck in some trees, however, and as she acts like quite the badass I quietly decide not to prick her pomp. And then, astoundingly, I'm back. Home, sweet never even remotely my home. But it is where I left my power armour and a few of my lesser spare weapons, so the meaning is there even if the comfort is not.
I clamber back inside my battered suit, and an immediate angry beeping reminds me that, unless I find another Fusion Core extremely soon, its time is almost up.
It might get me through one more fight, but that'll be it. I only have some basic leather armour without it, so life will get very hard very fast. For now though, it's time to carry on up the coastline. What wonders will I encounter? What terrors will I face down? How next shall I dice with death?
Oh, an old people's home. A form of looking death right in the face, I suppose.
A cheerful robot mans the front desk, either blissfully unaware that the old duffers in its charge are long-dead or determined to tease the latest battered human to slope through its doors. I slip out of my power armour - every drop of juice counts and use a little of that ol' Palin' charm. I successfully convince it that I'm here to visit a relative, and it gives me a copy of the room key I already pickpocketed from it moments ago.
It's a grim scene in here, old people doing old people things like playing draughts and tending flowers at the moment the bombs dropped, their browning skeletons now frozen into those quiet, lonely moments forever.
One old lady's cats have survived. It is not clear how, and if they are the same cats as decades ago or their descendants, but I am first delighted to see them and then dismayed that I cannot pet them, feed them or convince them to come with me. You might be last cats in the world, cats. I hate to leave you here, but I just can't stay.
It's quiet here. Too quiet. I'm not used to exploring without having spend the whole time crouched and quaking. Order is soon restored. As I'm rooting around, I hear the desk-pot suddenly pipe up. "Ah, more visitors!" My blood freezes. I creep towards the entrance, and hear the tell-tale, insectoid chatter of Synths. Why are they here? What do they want? They're not the ones I jumped off the roof of the fish factory to escape, are they?
At least I've had a brief chance to prepare. I seed the main corridor with mines and retreat around a corner. One, two, three explosions, but still three Synths bear down on me. Two of them, my PipBoy claims, are much tougher than I am, so I sprint away upstairs. Somewhere along the line I picked up a plasma grenade, which I neatly roll down the stairs towards the lethal androids and at last their laser blasts die down. I haven't taken much damage, but I have used up all the best tricks in my bag.
Creeping downstairs, I get the shock of my life when I see this guy waiting for me:
But he doesn't shoot. He doesn't even move. He just stares. I creep closer. Nothing. Part of me wants to go right up to him and see if there's anything I can say or do, but no, not worth the risk. I take out my worst pistol and finish him with a single round to the head. The Wasteland is making me hard.
Then I become embroiled in a treasure hunt for the residents' safe keys, presuming some great reward awaits me for diligently combing through their model boats and dirty cat bowls and under their ancient, rotting pillows. Nope, just some pills. Figures - old people, pills. But at least I'm now festooned with drugs and medicine, which will make the road ahead a little easier.
And just as well, because not long after leaving the care home, I'm set upon by a trio of particularly nasty Mirelurks, and it's at that point that my poor old power suit finally gives up the ghost. A shame: I'd hoped for a heroic last stand, a tragic final resting point for ol' shellhead, but instead I just have to dump it at the bottom of a fire escape in the middle of a dirty plaza. My long-held fear of this moment dissipates almost immediately, as I adapt to the challenge at hand, and even relish the freedom to sprint around without the fear that it's sapping precious energy. I'd never expected to find myself with a power suit so soon anyway. Perhaps this is just as it should be.
The Mirelurks are tough, but I'm able to carve them up from the relative safety of a first-storey platform, while an unseen, hoarse voice either eggs me on or admonishes me. Once the Mirelurks are dead, he opens a gate to his house and tells me he's in the bunker in the basement. Now hang on, I've read War of the Worlds - I know that being trapped underground with just one other guy means that guy will almost certainly go mad and become a liability. But hell, no-one else has offered to have a conversation with me. In I go. If you haven't heard from me in two hours, send help.
The guy has a creepy look in his eye, is quite insulting to me and is really, really into guns. Super into guns. Not enough into guns to want to come with me and help shoot things that attack me, but enough to want to give me a special gun if I go back outside and fix up all his turrets in order to keep the Mirelurks at bay. I've already pickpocketed him and found a key to where he keeps said gun, but as his task involves not leaving this general idea and thus not deviating from my route, I might as well.
Holy crap, there are a lot of Mirelurks out there. Tough ones, too. If they swamped me in the open, that would be it. Fortunately Mirelurks are both stupid and wide, so I'm able to run up stairs, go through doorways and generally stand just behind small bits of wall in order to prevent them reaching me. As I slowly power up the five turrets, I have some fearsome help in keeping these crabs at bay too. I'm actually feeling pretty secure and capable, which isn't quite what I'd expected from the aftermath of losing my powersuit.
It helps that the gun nut had both an armour and weapon station in his house - the first ones I'd encountered. This means I've laced my armour with reinforcement and stuck a few neat mods on my weapons, using long-stockpiled reserves of glue, leather and steel. I'm still a rather frail character as all my abilities lie in charm and wits, but my guns are packing a reasonable punch now, which will help with bullet conservation.
Time to move on, and once again I'm almost as far East as I can get. In my rush to reach the shoreline my tale almost comes to an abrupt end when I'm jumped by yet another Mirelurk that erupts from the sand, and one that spits burning poison too.
My health is racing down as the stuff eats into my skin, but a combination of Stimpaks and swigging four bottles of Nuka Cola spares me from death.
And then here I am once more, at the end of the world. The game has changed now, though - I can safely swim without suffering from radiation poison, and I even have a hazmat suit in case I emerge onto irradiated land. So, this time, I could swim out East without chancing almost certain death.
I don't know what's out there; I don't even know if there's land out there. But I could. Or I could carry on South around the coastline, where there will definitely be stuff and I will be making more progress towards my eventual destination, the very start of this circle. Your choice.