Crafting A Narrative

“38. Scorched Earth” – Fallout 3 | Crafting A Narrative

38

Read Part 37: “Back on the Trail” here.

Compared to the rest of my wanderings through the Wastes up until that point, my journey towards Vault 87 was uneventful. I had a run-in with a scavenging party two days out and had to skirt around a Super Mutant encampment the following night but I emerged from both encounters unscathed. It was a nice change from being shot at, mauled, captured, and otherwise dragged into situations that I had no right being involved with. But I should have known that it wouldn’t—couldn’t—last.

Sunset of the fourth day found me in a pre-War settlement made up of a loose grouping of flimsy structures that I was surprised hadn’t been worn away by time. Like everything else in the Wasteland, they had long since been plundered, with little more than a few scattered skeletons left behind. According to my Pip-Boy, Vault 87 was only a few hours ahead, and given the easily defendable high-rise position of the settlement, I figured it would do best to pass the night there. Within a few minutes I’d cleared one of the structures of detritus and settled down on its thin, mouldy mattress. But sleep didn’t come so easily.

As I lay, thinking about the day to come and gazing out a dirty window, I noticed a faint, sickly glow on the western horizon. Covering about a quarter of what I could see, the glow was in line with a small hill that I’d noted before the sun went down. My curiosity was aroused and I determined to find out the cause of it on the following day, either before or after I’d descended into Vault 87. Once I’d decided that, I rolled over and fell asleep almost instantly.

Night always brings noises with it: the fluttering wings of bloatflies, the snuffling of mole rats, the scurrying of radroaches. Those that disturbed my rest that night, however, were not so benign. It was around midnight that I was woken by a series of rhythmic thuds that grew louder with time. These were soon accompanied by the faint whirring of pistons and actuators.

I glanced through one of the grimy windows as the sounds drew nearer, hoping to see without being seen. What I saw sent a shiver of fear through me. It was a tripedal robot made of black metal, only visible because of the way the weak moonlight reflected from its high-gloss body, that towered over the two khaki-clad people walking behind. Weapons bristled from all angles, and although most were indistinguishable, I could clearly make out a saw-edged blade.

Recalling the War-era propaganda in the Vault, I recognised it as an SB-model military bot, designed to destroy. The pulse grenades hanging at my waist, given to me by Reed as a parting gift, suddenly seemed a lot less useful.

I hunkered into one corner of the room, closed my eyes, and waited. The noises outside peaked soon after, each thudding step sending a tremor through my flimsy shelter, then slowly, thankfully, began to recede. I thought I’d had a lucky escape. Their uniforms had been remarkably similar to those of Talon Company, and I was still a wanted man. Eventually, the adrenaline coursing through my body subsided and I fell asleep once more, but the second half of the night was no more restful than the first, with the now-familiar nightmares plaguing my dreams.

When next I woke, sunlight was trickling in and the world was silent. I breakfasted quickly and set off again, first scanning the horizon for any sign of the midnight visitors. Like me, they had been heading westward, and I wanted to avoid meeting them if I could. To my great relief, the first part of my journey brought no sign of them.

Any doubt that the hill I had noticed glowing during the previous evening evaporated as I drew closer as my Pip-Boy seemed to point me ever more directly towards it. The look of it, however, did not inspire confidence. In our history lessons, we had been taught of the military strategy of ‘scorched earth’, and those words seemed to apply to the mound before me. Even compared to the rest of the Wasteland it was barren: a blackened patch of earth void of even the faintest semblance of greenery. The rusted and decayed remnants of an ancient barbed wire fence surrounded it, and signs with faded red paint were erected at intervals around it.

I approached one of these and read:

DANGER

Extreme radiation levels beyond this point

No entry without Hazmat clearance

Recommended annual dose may be exceeded in 0.7 seconds

For a moment, my spirits failed. Was that it, then? After travelling so long, to be foiled by the consequences of war? No, I determined. I wasn’t willing to simply surrender.

Perhaps, I thought, the radiation levels have subsided since.

Six steps past the signs, that thought was proven wrong. The rad counter in my Pip-Boy leapt to life with readings higher than any I have seen since. Still, I was not deterred. Most of that day was spent circling the hill, searching desperately for a safe path up it, or some tunnel that would lead below, but my efforts were in vain.

The more I searched, however, the more convinced I became that the irradiation of the hill was no accident. I saw the remnants of barrels stamped with biohazard symbols, discarded plutonium rods, and other such radioactive refuse sticking out of the mound. It was no hill, but a pile, intentionally constructed. I couldn’t tell if that was a part of Vault 87’s experiment, an attempt to hide the Vault, or just an inconveniently selected dumping ground.

Regardless of the reason, I now realised that 87 was the other Vault that the Brotherhood had deemed inaccessible, and for good reason. I sat down on a nearby rock to think.

According to the Scribe, 87 was my only hope of finding a G.E.C.K. in the D.C. area, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t hope elsewhere. I guessed that there were at least 112 Vaults dotted across nation. Even if most were experiments, or had suffered the same plundering and scavenging of those nearby, at least some of them had to have a G.E.C.K. It hardly seemed sensible for Vault-Tec to develop such a marvellous piece of technology, promote it as the key to resurrecting the world after a nuclear holocaust, then distribute just one. Somewhere out there, far beyond where my footsteps had so far taken me, there had to be more.

With that thought, I was possessed by a burning desire to get up and wander off into the Wastes, but I knew that I would never get anywhere with such an approach. I hadn’t the faintest idea of what lay ahead, or even where to begin to look for more Vaults. Pragmatism told me that I would first have to return to the Citadel, get what information I could from the Scribes, and inform the other survivors of Project Purity of my intentions. Doing so would add at least a week to my travels, but I had little choice.

I rose, turned my face to the east, and started the long trek back.

But it didn’t take long for thoughts and doubts to begin crowding in, chipping away at my confidence. What if I couldn’t find any more Vaults? What if there were no more G.E.C.K.s? What if Dad had been wrong about the device?

The most insistent of all, however, was a small voice repeating over and over, ‘Do you really want to do this?’

And the truth was, I didn’t want to be Dad’s insurance policy. But, if I wanted any fulfilment in my life, there were no other options. While others might find joy in sauntering into a settlement, setting up a shop or cafe, and starting a family, that didn’t appeal to me then. I still wanted a life of adventure. There was the possibility of joining the Brotherhood, but I didn’t want to be pressed into servitude. Dedicating my life to the success of Project Purity seemed the only alternative to life stretching out, as empty and barren as the Wasteland itself.

Evening was approaching and I’d almost regained the settlement where I’d passed the previous night when a shot rang out. Sound spreads out across the open plains, making it difficult to find their source. For that reason, it’s always wisest to drop to the ground when you hear gunfire. I didn’t know that then and, stupidly, whirled about, scanning my surroundings. Then, I realised that I hadn’t been cautious enough.

After beginning back to the Citadel, I’d stopped looking behind me, thinking that the party I’d seen on the previous night had long since passed on. I was wrong. There, almost directly behind me, though a long way away, was the hulking figure of the SB.

I murmured a curse and began to run. Within seconds, my right shoulder began to burn, but it wasn’t until I heard the second gunshot and looked down to see a red stain spreading across my shirt that I realised I’d been hit.

I took a few more faltering steps, then dropped to my knees. I fell forward, then rolled onto my back.

I remember hearing my breath hissing through my gritted teeth. I remember the sting in my shoulder and the dull ache that was spreading from it. I remember looking up at the sky, where a few brown clouds floated by. And I remember, as I closed my eyes, a third gunshot echoed across the plain.

Disclaimer: The preceding is a narrative account of the author’s playthrough of Fallout 3. It is not paid content. Fallout 3 and all related trademarks remain the property of Bethesda Softworks. OnlySP.com team members have no personal or professional affiliation with Bethesda Softworks or any related companies.

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