Stock and Trade: Vault-Tec

Posted by CB Droege

Often when the protagonist of a speculative narrative must struggle against an unfeeling world, that world is represented by a faceless conglomerate, so in Stock and Trade, our latest genre fiction feature series, we’re looking at fictional corporations. Today, we’re featuring Vault-Tec.

In the Fallout story-world, Vault-Tec’s name is seen in every corner of the world. They are the company who created the Vault system, and seemingly many other technologies, devices, and even literature all related to apocalypse survival. Their Iconic mascot, Vault Boy, is highly recognizable, and is used in many of the promotional graphics for the games.

The protagonists in most of the series entries are former residents of the vaults, who have been thrust out into the bright, filthy world of the post-apocalypse, when the Vaults represent a time and place of safety. Each vault is a little bit different, and the player discovers that there are sinister reasons for these differences.

In the late 2050’s, in the midst of the Resource Wars, the US government began a project codenamed Safehouse, and sought a private contractor to carry out a project which would create a system on interconnected underground bunkers for the US to hide within in the case of nuclear attack. Vault-Tec won the bid to take on this project, and began on the Vault system, which should have contained nearly half-a-million Vaults, all connected by underground passages. The plan didn’t quite turn out, however, and by the time of the Great War in 2077, only 122 vaults had been constructed and, as far as we know, none of them were connected to any others.

It’s revealed throughout the Fallout stories that each vault, rather than a hiding place, was in-fact a testing laboratory, each one with a slightly different purpose. In Vault 112, for example, the population of the vault was hooked up to virtual reality machines that simulated the pre-war world accurately enough to fool the participants. When the protagonist of Fallout 3 finally discovers them after 200 years in the simulation, they still have no idea that a war has even occurred, nor do they seem to be aware of how much time has passed. Other vaults turn out to be experiments with drugs, mutation, government, or just basic psychology. 

Almost Ironically, it turns out that Vault-Tec is not the sinister force.  When they were brought on, they fully intended to create the perfect post-war habitation system, and when the player discovers early prototypes of the Vaults, and literature about the Vault system, there is a genuine seeming enthusiasm for the project on the part of the creators.

The sinister plans actually come from a conservative splinter group within the US government who called themselves The Enclave (a name later taken by the followers of President Eden). This group took over management of Project Safehouse soon after it began, and derailed its purpose. Rather than building the underground network, they instructed Vault-Tec to build the vaults as a way to experiment on citizens, in an attempt to determine the best way to manage and govern a post-war society. Each one was a model for potential post-war habitat, and the people in them were subjects of the experiment. This turned out to be fortuitous in the end, however, as the Great War gave very little notice, and the only people who made it into any kind of bunkers were the test-subjects who were already in the Vaults.

It’s also revealed (though possibly non-canon, as it’s in Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel, which is no longer officially recognized) that Vault-Tec, frustrated with the demands of The Enclave used their own recourses to build a proper bunker for their top employees, and their families. In addition, they worked secretly to create weapons, armor, vaccines, artificial intelligences, and other technologies to help the survivors of the coming nuclear winter, all kept secret from the Enclave.

Vault-Tec is most interesting because, while it is ubiquitous in the Fallout world, it doesn’t seem to be neither particularly evil, nor particularly philanthropic. They seem to have genuinely cared about the future of mankind, but at the same time, they went along with The Enclaves plans without bringing the conspiracy to the attention of the public, or even the rest of the government. In each Fallout game we get to learn a little bit more about Vault-Tec, and it seems like there is still so much to discover.

Come back tomorrow, when we’ll be taking a look at LexCorp. If you have an idea for a corporation we could feature in this series, let us know in the comments.